Cable Customer Service Under Review

ACTION: After the first new cable regulation bill in 15 years, the public utilities commission can now consider cable’s execrable customer service record when renewing licenses. In a proceeding at the CPUC, they are asking how best to do that. We have answers.

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BACKGROUND: In 2006, the California Legislature removed cable companies from the burden of negotiating with local governments to renew their agreements. By embracing “statewide franchising” with the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act (DIVCA), the state enacted one of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) signature bills – and in one fell swoop eliminated a host of community benefits that cities had extracted from cable companies in exchange for monopoly use of the cable network.

Without local governments haggling to get the best deal for themselves and automatic approval from the state utilities commission (CPUC), cable companies had a sweet deal. They didn’t have to worry about customer service or frequent rate increases, could expand into broadband services absent redlining protections, and they could do the absolute minimum for the governmental, educational and public interest channels they were required to provide. As shoddy as their services might be, they literally *couldn’t* lose their monopoly franchises absent a court order.

For more than a decade following the enactment of DIVCA, cable franchising was frozen into a place as the subject of a legislative “deal” that state politicians were unwilling to break. This remained the status quo even as Comcast, the state’s largest cable provider, won awards for worst customer service and America’s most hated company (twice). And it remained the status quo as cable prices soared, cable broadband became the face of some of America’s worst redlining, and California’s public access cable channels steadily dissolved.

Finally, in 2021, this bad consensus started to slowly break up. The first chink was SB 28, a bill that gave the state regulator permission to hear customer service complaints about the cable companies as part of the renewal process. The implementation of SB 28 is what the CA Public Utilities Commission is currently discussing.

SB 28 was followed by two other bills about cable franchising: one which sought to bring redlining issues into the renewal process, and another which sought to deliver modern broadcasting technology to the surviving public cable channels. Neither succeeded (although the redlining bill is back for another try this year as AB 41), but taken as a package, they demonstrate that the long cold winter of cable deregulation is starting to end.

Help California regulate cable again: end digital redlining, serve consumers instead of harassing them, and protect community channels!

DETAILS: CPUC Proceeding # R.23-04-006

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