Be Careful with CableCard...it can Cost you MORE than you Expect!

Aug 27 2008

One of the greatest selling points you will hear in regard to Vista CableCard OEM PCs is that "It will save you money", because you will not have to rent whatever set-top-box your cable provider deems a requirement to view digital and HD channels. And originally, it was a valid point and one which really helped validate the necessity of the FCC's support of something which would reduce the ridiculous monopoly which cable companies had on how you can watch television.

I wonder if what's become of the situation is what the FCC and the other Consumer Fair Rights groups had in mind when they came up with the idea. Apparently, the Cable Companies (for this case, I will use Comcast, but have also been told that Time Warner shares this 'fun' habit) have taken it upon themselves to deem that the charge for the cable cards alone are not substantial enough--most likely as they are simply not making enough money out of the deal. Having to provide a service without forcing a consumer to rent their box?! ABSURD!

I will be the first to admit, the idea of being able to use my Media Center with high definition cable was the number one reason I chose to go with Cable Card. But a very close second was the cost savings--yes, I know I had to purchase an OEM system, but I was going to anyway, so it was a wash for me. Imagine my shock when I looked at my cable bill, which had then jumped from $70 or so to the near $90 range, and found out that the cable cards were the culprit! I am in the San Jose - Bay Area and am forced into Comcast San Jose. When I initially setup Cablecard, my understanding was that I would be charged $1.79 per card. Not free, but hey, not nearly as bad as paying $8-10 for a set-top box with a hideous user interface and response time. After looking at my bill however, it appears that is simply not true...

Comcast, in their shrewd way, have apparently seen fit to start charging me an ADDITIONAL $6.99 fee PER CABLECARD! And yes, that is separate than the already charged $1.79 each. After speaking to 3 customer service reps and 2 managers, I got a variety of excuses and responses as to why they HAVE to charge me the outrageous $6.99, stating on the bill it is for a "Digital Addon Outlet." Even when I explained this is for a single Media Center PC and that they have not installed any other outlet, they refused to budge. Here's the kicker--when I posed the question to them of how much a Set-top-box rental costs, they replied, "$6.99," and even admitted that yes, it would be cheaper to go with one of THEIR set-top-boxes instead of Cablecards, stating, that the only reason he knows why anyone would go Cablecard would be to "hang their TV on the wall."

I feel terrible writing this, as I really love the technology but there is already significant negative publicity surrounding cable card--with the lack of inexpensive boxes, to the terrifying thought of Switched Digital Video--but I had to bring this out into the open as I think it's an absolute atrocity of the idea the FCC started which was wonderful for the consumer. In the end, at least for now, it seems Comcast and other cable companies will continue to gouge you in every way, shape or form, until you resign to the fees and services they want you to use.

If this outrages you half as much as much it did me, I IMPLORE YOU to GET INVOLVED!! Write your cable company, write to the Consumerist and other Consumer Advocacy Groups. Digg this and any similar articles...and most importantly, let your WALLET do the talking! I know I will be, and there is power in numbers, and if enough Consumers speak up about this atrocity then that is how things can change.

EDIT 8/27

I wanted to update as a lot of people have replied with some great information. The main item of point, was pointing me to the Comcast FAQ which states some interesting facts, which basically lead me to believe I shouldn't be charged more than $2.05 per card. I took their advice and spoke to yet another CSR & their Supervisor, and pointed out the above FAQ, and to remind them that all my cards were on a single MCE computer.

Here's the kicker--she had no problem removing the $6.99 charge off my account, but then the Comcast system AUTOMATICALLY DISABLED the Cablecard it was associated with!! So even if a CSR wanted to uphold what Comcast should be doing, the system has now been designed to prevent them from doing so!

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