13 August 2008

It's a Good Day to Complain About Semi-Monopolies and Their Ass-Tastic Ways . . .

Pastor Jeff is unappy with AT&T at the moment (understandably so), I am currently miffed with Time Warner Cable of Southern California.

I'd be more than miffed, normally, but what they're doing isn't technically wrong, it's just a bit asshole-ish, so all I can get is miffed.

Used to be, up until about 1:45am August 12th, lots of channels were broadcast by TWC in clear QAM. That means most digital TVs could pick up unscrambled digital cable channels and display them with no external cable box. They are required by FCC regulations to carry your local broadcast channels in clear QAM, or if they go full digital and scramble everything, provide each household with a free converter box (but not one for every device/tuner). Since they make money off of charging a monthly fee on the boxes, and since most people with HDTVs are going to go for the HD-DVR boxes they offer, they don't want to be giving away basic boxes for free, so they broadcast local channels in the clear.

Up until the night before last, they also broadcast all the local HD feeds, plus the HD FSN/Prime Ticket feed, plus a few extra tier cable channels like Discovery Health and TCM across clear QAM, too.

Having the HD feeds through clear QAM was a great convenience, given that the HDTV in my bedroom only has one antenna input, I could watch local HD content without having to switch between OTA (good old fashion 'over the air) and cable signals.

On top of that, for the first few nights of the Olympics, they also let out in the clear all of the Olympic HD coverage (the Basketball Channel, Soccer Channel, USA-HD, Universal HD), which was great, and meant that you didn't have to settle on only the one TV tied to the HD-DVR to watch the HD Olympic coverage.

That was then, now they've choked off all clear QAM other than that they are required to carry by the FCC. I'm seriously miffed about losing the local HD channels, but looking at the regulation, the FCC only requires them to carry the local stations, it doesn't specify Standard or High Def feeds, so it appears that TWC is still in compliance (the bastards).

They've just made internal tuner cards for PCs that pick up QAM signals mostly worthless, they've made 2nd and 3rd room HDTVs (as many people have, and given the prices many more are getting HD sets for even their extra TVs), SD boxes for most people who are unwilling to pay for 2-3 extra cable box rentals on top of the first cable box they are forced to get.

The main family TV has the box, but I use my computer with a tuner card as my extra DVR, luckily I get most of the broadcast channels fine OTA, so I can still use my PC to record sweet HD action from the OTA feeds, but I'm still miffed that I can't watch live HD clear QAM feeds on my bedroom TV now, instead having to deal with the hassle of switching antenna feeds if I want to watch HD while recording something else on my PC, or with my PC off (I refuse to get another box, the first box rental is part of the package, each additional box is a ridiculous fee, given how crappy the boxes are, and the limited storage they provide, their boxes can record about 20 hrs of HD content, my PC can record basically an unlimited amount just depending how many terabytes of storage I choose to buy, plus, I can easily archive stuff I've recorded on my PC in full HD, on the TWC boxes, it's impossible to archive HD recordings).

In the big scheme of things, I have absolutely nothing to complain about, it's just annoying that the cable service they provided had a nice little unsupported bonus that they let slip out, and now they've locked it down again. Not enough to get me to switch to a dish, but when FiOS finally gets rolled out in this neighborhood, I'm going to give it a serious look (same problems apply, and even more so, given that FiOS doesn't offer an analog feed like cable, but the actual HD content is supposed to be much better, and both Verizon and AT&T are being smarter about multiple TV set-ups, at least to begin with, to get you hooked, both Verizon and AT&T are sure to revert to their usual awful ways once they've had you as a customer for awhile, then it's time to see what TWC has to offer again).

But my main point is, there's nothing worse than when government regulations lead to local monopolies on what are now basic services. Get the worst of all worlds with that set-up, bureaucratic intransigence mixed with large doses of corporate greed. There's got to be a non-chaotic way to allow real competition in the tele-communication/internet/cable business.

UPDATE: 6:15pm August 14th

D'oh! Those Bastards are Bastards for not being the Bastards I thought they were. Turns out they didn't stop sending HD channels, they've just remapped them. I ran the tuner's auto memory function and found all the channels I was missing, plus all the Olympic HD channels, plus a channel that TWC doesn't even offer as part of any of their packages (WGN). Hopefully nobody at TWC will read this post, I'd hate for them to 'fix' things again. They even improved things somewhat, they've remapped the HD feeds of the network channels to the same channel assignment as the SD channel (for example, CBS here is 2, and now CBS-HD is 2.001 instead of 93.001 as it was before).

They're still monopolistic bastards with insane pricing policies, sucky customer service, substandard DVR boxes (when compared to TiVO), and their internet is subject to the occasional annoying slow down, but other than that, they're great.

1 comment:

Pastor_Jeff said...

It was a new thought to me a while back when I read that businesses hate competition because it brings uncertain outcomes -- they want to strangle their competitors and have monopoly power so they're free to operate as they choose. It's obvious, but I'd never thought of it that way. Competition is only a tool to get to the real goal -- monopoly power. And the most dangerous monopoly power of all is government. No fast food for you poor people -- you use your freedom the wrong way!

On an unrelated note, a couple of guys from AT&T came by a few weeks ago touting their new fiber optic service. "How does it get in the house?" I asked. "Through the cable," they said. Good plan -- build a superhighway to within 100 feet of my house and then connect to it with a one-lane ramp.