For the second time this year, many metro Atlantans’ cable bills are on the rise.
Comcast, the region’s largest cable provider, is raising rates by $3 a month in most cases, beginning Oct. 1. The impact on customers is anywhere from 3 percent to nearly 17 percent of their total bill, depending on the level of service. It’s the first time Comcast has raised rates twice in a single calendar year.
Typically, television providers raise their rates on an annual basis. The other paid TV providers in metro Atlanta have no immediate plans to raise the costs of their service, they said.
But at Comcast, the company’s costs have accelerated throughout the year, spokesmen said. The company is paying higher programming costs and has invested in its network.
While some customers simply pay their bills without regard to rising prices, an increasing number of paid-TV customers are paying attention to their higher bills, said Jeff Kagan, a Marietta technology analyst. They respond by pulling the plug, he said, and for the first time, cable providers saw a decrease nationally in their customer base this year.
“Whenever there’s a price increase, it impacts the customer marketplace,” Kagan said. “It’s been increasing over the past several years. They’re basically leaving. They’re saying goodbye.”
Three years ago, David O’Keefe decided the cost of his cable package was too high. O’Keefe, who lived in New York at the time, didn’t look into getting traditional cable when he moved to Atlanta. Instead, he has an HD antenna and a Netflix subscription. He misses “SportsCenter” on ESPN, but he watches it at the gym. He has no plans to pay for television.
“It seems out of my range,” he said. “It’s well over $100; it’s too much monthly.”
Most of Comcast’s cable-only plans will go up $3 a month; the price of packages will increase by $5 a month. Comcast’s highest cable-only level — Digital Preferred, with two premium channels — will cost $104.70 a month with the new rates. Its Digital Preferred package will cost $83.90 monthly, while Digital Starter will be $65.95 a month. The price of Digital Economy television will rise $5 a month, to $34.95.
Comcast customers with promotional plans won’t see their costs rise to the new prices until their plans expire.
Cable rate increases tend to be triple the rate of inflation, said Joel Kelsey, the legislative director at Free Press, which advocates for affordable Internet access and diverse media ownership.
He said as programming providers demand more from the television providers, it’s customers who suffer through price hikes, or the loss of their favorite channels.
For instance, Dish Network’s fight with AMC Networks left its subscribers without access to the network that airs “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” and the locally filmed hit “The Walking Dead.”
“Consumers are the ones that are held hostage,” he said. “Consumers are the ones stuck in the middle.”
Brian Farley, a Comcast spokesman, said the company reviews its pricing periodically and makes adjustments as it sees fit.
“By and large, our customers remain loyal and continue to see incremental value in our service,” Farley said. “We work hard to hold down the cost.”
This year, Farley said, Comcast has added 15 channels in metro Atlanta — including Disney Junior, ShopNBC and ESPN Goal Line — and made its programming available on additional screens.
Another Comcast spokesman, Andy Macke, said the company is sensitive to rising prices, but that its costs have accelerated throughout the year. For the past few years, Comcast has had to pay for broadcast television service, he said, which was not the case in the past. It has invested $75 million in its network, and is trying to ensure a return on the investment.
Since 2007, the price of Comcast’s lowest-tier option, Limited Basic, has risen 176.5 percent, from $10.83 a month to $29.95 monthly, after the $3-a-month Oct. 1 increase.
Other providers also said their programming costs have risen, and they have invested more in technology. Robert Mercer, a spokesman for DirecTV, said that company raised its rates by about 4 percent in February. DirecTV, which has 19.9 million customers, experienced a decrease of 52,000 customers in the company’s second quarter, he said, but Mercer attributed that to tighter credit standards at DirecTV.
This year, rates went up between $2 and $5, or between 1.7 and 3.5 percent, for customers of AT&T U-verse, a spokesman said. Dish froze its rates for two years in January 2011. A spokesman said the company wanted to give customers a feeling of price stability with their monthly bills.
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