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CS: Customers rate cable lower than low

Thu, 08/09/2001 - 8:00pm
Anne Kerven

That's pretty bad. No, that's really bad. Cable companies are "their own worst enemies," and landed the lowest ratings of any service provider ever rated — "even lower than those for technical support from computer manufacturers," Consumer Reports magazine says.

The magazine conducted a survey of satellite, cable and digital cable customers, in part to determine satisfaction levels, and found that satellite held the edge in several categories. For its part, digital cable held a slight lead over analog in a few areas, but overall, digital cable customers were less than impressed.

Customers ranked satellite's monthly rates higher than they did cable's. Not only can customers expect to pay a bit more for cable than satellite, but a key customer complaint was cable's substantial rise in rates this year. Rates were notably better in areas where "there is true competition in cable," the magazine said, although only one in 20 respondents had a cable choice.

Cable led in upfront investments, however, since customers buy their satellite equipment — $200 average, plus $75 for installation. Cable came in at $100 average for setup.

Cable did offer more local programming than satellite, leading some satellite subscribers to keep their cable service, as well. Satellite held the edge in picture quality, possibly because all of satellite's channels are digital, while cable delivers a few in digital and the rest are still analog. Satellite also held the lead in sound sophistication, since many cable boxes still can't transmit multichannel audio in anything other than two-channel service, despite digital service, CR says.

Satellite also placed higher than cable in HDTV, while cable placed higher in Internet access. While rates have risen, installation and monthly costs tend to be bundled with TV service. That and rented equipment can save customers money.

Finally, CR cautions customers not to rely on promised dates of digital cable availability, noting that "over the years, cable companies have been notoriously unreliable in their predictions of upgraded service."

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