Comcast takes over Adelphia accounts Nov. 9
By Greg Elias
Your cable television company has changed, but the rates and channel lineups will remain mostly the same – at least for now.
Comcast Corp. officially takes over Adelphia’s cable subscribers Thursday, Nov. 9. The change occurs more than a year after the $17.6 billion sale of Adelphia to Comcast and Time-Warner was announced. Under terms of the deal, Comcast assumed service for Adelphia’s 100,000-plus Vermont customers.
Comcast spokesman Marc Goodman said rates will remain the same. One new channel, CN8, which will carry local sports and other programming, is already airing.
Programming could change in coming months, but Goodman said it is too early to tell when and if there will be major changes in the channel lineup.
He touted Comcast’s commitment to customer service and cutting-edge content.
“The official change to Comcast represents a lot more than a new uniform or a new name on the side of a truck,” he said. “We provide the best programming and service available anywhere.”
Not everyone is upbeat about the change in ownership. Critics of increasing consolidation in the cable industry warn that Comcast, the nation’s largest cable and broadband Internet provider, has the power to raise rates at will and to determine what content is offered.
The sale of Adelphia, which was under federal bankruptcy protection, benefited customers in the short term because they faced a loss of service, said Jeannine Kenney, senior policy analyst with Consumers Union in Washington, D.C.
But she is wary of the long-term effects of the sale, which included swaps of service areas between Comcast and Time Warner, the nation’s second-largest cable company.
Those arrangements allow each telecom giant to enjoy geographic dominance in parts of the U.S., Kenney said, which in turn helps sidestep competition.
“The bottom line is it allows the companies to consolidate territories and to some degree set prices,” she said. “Consumers in the end take it in the wallet.”
Kenney acknowledged that satellite companies provide some competition. But she pointed out that satellite service is sometimes not available in mountainous areas without a clear view of the sky.
Massachusetts’s experience with Comcast may provide a preview of what Vermonters can expect from their new cable provider.
Alicia Matthews, director of the Cable Division of the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunication and Energy, said the transition to Comcast went smoothly after the company bought AT&T Broadband a few years ago.
“When changes (in programming) happened, they happened gradually” over the period of several months to a year after Comcast took over, she said. The company told customers well in advance when channels were going to be added or subtracted.
Prices have increased for Comcast subscribers in Massachusetts, Matthews said, but no faster than they did under AT&T. The rate hikes have typically been 6 or 7 percent a year, on par with cable price increases nationally.
Goodman flatly denied that subscription rates will rise in Vermont, but he declined to give any long-range price forecasts.
“We’ve said in every public forum that prices will not change as a result of this transaction,” he said.
However, some fees will increase. Correspondence sent to Adelphia customers in September said Comcast will “reinstate” a $1.99 fee for upgrading or downgrading services, such as adding or deleting premium channels.
Comcast will also charge a $100 deposit for set-top boxes that include a digital video recorder, the letter stated. Goodman said the deposit would apply only to new customers.
Billing cycles will also change, but customers will still have 30 days to pay. Those who use automatic bill payment will have to inform their bank about the new Comcast account number. Payments for such customers will now be debited 25 days after the statement date.
The first change in content has already taken place for local Comcast subscribers. CN8 will broadcast University of Vermont hockey games and other programming on channel 18 in Chittenden County. It replaces Adelphia’s preview channel.
Next month, Comcast will add thousands of programs to the existing video on-demand service, which is available to those who subscribe to digital cable. Goodman said more than 7,500 programs – movies, sports, CBS network shows – will be available, 90 percent of them free.
Starting next year, several new channels will be added, including high-definition offerings, Goodman said. But he declined to name specific channels, saying it was too soon to know what content will be added or subtracted.
Customers who use Adelphia’s high-speed Internet access will be required to alter computer settings to use Comcast’s broadband offering. The company will send letters and e-mail within the next week instructing customers on how to change their settings.
Comcast offers two levels of Internet service – 6 and 8 megabytes per second – that are higher speeds than Adelphia provided. Goodman said customers will be allowed to continue with their existing level of Internet service at the same price.
The Vermont Public Service Board imposed requirements on Comcast when it approved the Adelphia sale last year. Comcast must construct more than 1,500 miles of line extensions and continue to offer public access channels.
The sale makes Comcast by far the state’s largest cable company and continues the trend of fewer and fewer cable providers within Vermont and elsewhere in the U.S., said Lauren-Glenn Davitian, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy in Burlington which operates Channel 17, Town Meeting TV.
“In 1984, there were 50 cable systems in the state,” she said. “Now there are just a handful.”