Continued Cable Rate Increases

Fatty_watching_himself_on_TVEvery year about this time we see the big cable companies increase rates. Rather than list all of the changes at all of the big companies, I’m going to look at the rate increases announced by Mediacom. I’m not particularly singling them out, but the increases they are implementing this year are typical and I think Mediacom reflect the trends we are now seeing around the industry.

First, Mediacom increased the rate on its basic internet product while bumping the speeds higher. They are increasing the price from $49.99 to $54.99 and increasing speeds from 15 Mbps download to 60 Mbps download. Both of those changes are trends I see across the industry.

Mediacom claims the increase in data prices is due to the increased speeds. Anybody who understands the ISP industry knows that is a fairly lame excuse, but the speed increase gives them cover to make the claim. The cost of providing bandwidth (except for the tiniest and most remote ISPs) is only a few dollars per month per customer. Mediacom will certainly see a one-time burst in the use of data because of the speed increases since they will have unleashed homes that were restricted by the slower 15 Mbps limit. But after this one-time burst they will see usage return to the former growth curve. I have a client that did a similar upgrade last year and they saw about a 25% immediate increase in data usage as customers moved to the faster speeds. But that one-time increase doesn’t cost the ISP very much money.

But Medicom’s increase reflects the new trend in the industry for raising data prices. Verizon started this a few years ago with a small increase in FiOS and almost all large ISPs have now done the same thing. But unlike cable rate increases that are due to programming increases, ISPs have a much harder time defending data price increases. Yet the big ISPs are under constant pressure from Wall Street to increase the bottom line – and since they are all losing cable customers they have little recourse but to raise data rates. I expect this will become a routine annual increase like we’ve always seen in cable rates – but the public is going to catch on after a while that the rate increases go straight to profits and are not due to any underlying costs for providing data.

The other trend Mediacom is matching is the one to increase data speeds. Just last week, for example, Verizon FiOS raised speeds across the board with its fastest product now at 750 Mbps. Comcast and Charter are on a similar path, increasing speeds in some markets with plans to increase speeds everywhere. I think the cable companies have figured out that increasing speeds doesn’t cost them much and it keeps customers happy while fending off possible challenges from fiber competitors.

Mediacom also increased cable TV rates and announced an increase of $3.95 in its expanded basic package. They claim that programming costs have increased during the year by $5.50 to $6.50 (they have different line-ups in different markets). Those are not untypical numbers. But they claimed that “We are not passing along that entire increased expense to customers.” And that is not true.

In addition to the basic rate increase the company increased two other fees. They increased the ‘Local Broadcast Channel” fee by $1.61 per month and raised the regional sports channel surcharge by $0.24 per month. So altogether they raised various components of cable rates by $5.80 cents, which likely covers the increased programming costs.

This trend of disguising prices using fees is also now industrywide. Cable companies of all sizes have moved part of their cable rates into these ancillary fees, making it look like cable is more affordable than it is. The companies advertise the base ‘cable’ rates without mentioning the real cost of buying cable. These fees are confusing to customers, who often think that they are taxes of some sort. In Mediacom’s case the Local Broadcast Channel fee and the local sports channel surcharge fee now total an eye-popping $11.83 per month.

And of course, not all of these rate increases affect all customers immediately. There are customers with various specials who might not see some or all of these increases until their special expires. But a normal customer paying a month-to-month bill is going to get a total increase of $6.85 per month. That looks to be a fairly normal increase when looking around the industry this year. Each company is making different choices on the rates to raise. In addition to the choices Mediacom made, some are increasing settop box and cable modem rates to get the increases they want. Since a significant percentage of customers buy both cable TV and broadband, I’m guessing that customers don’t really much care which rates go up, they just care about the total increase in their bill.

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