NEWS- Channel change: New cable company comes to town
Commercials for bankrupt Adelphia Communications are still running on local television, but the embattled company's days as the cable provider for Charlottesville– and anywhere else– have expired.
Charlottesville's cable service is still based in Pennsylvania, but now the headquarters are at Comcast in Philadelphia rather than Adelphia in Coudersport, where the Rigas family founded what was once the nation's sixth-largest cable company and then used the publicly held corporation as its "personal piggy bank," according to federal investigators.
The company filed for bankrupcty in 2002 after founder John Rigas and two of his sons were indicted. Papa Rigas was eventually found guilty and handed a 15-year prison sentence.
Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, picked up one piece of the Adelphia carcass– Time Warner got the other– in a $17.6 billion deal, and started the transition in August.
Comcast spokewoman Lisa Altman promises a smooth and seamless integration. "We have a tremendous amount of experience and, more importantly, success, integrating cable systems and customers," she says.
Indeed, Comcast became the biggest cable player through acquisitions, and now numbers 23.3 million cable customers.
One upcoming change locally: Adelphia high-speed Internet users will have a new email address.
Adelphia employees still have jobs. "All former Adelphia employees are now Comcast employees," says Altman, and rather than laying off employees, Comcast will be hiring 250 more throughout Virginia by the end of the year.
Former Adelphia customers can look forward to the delights of on-demand services from Comcast's library of more than 7,500 programs. Except for new movies, 95 percent of the programming is free, says Altman. For instance, anyone who wants to exercise to a program or watch episodes of Survivor or just look at interviews with political candidates, they're available.
"It's a real trend product," one that's taken off in the DC area, explains Altman. In 2005, customers used on-demand services more than 50 million times. In the first half of 2006, demand for on-demand has already surpassed 50 million.
Will such amenities send the rates up? "At this time, we do not have any rate adjustments to announce," Altman writes in an e-mail. "However, when we adjust prices, it is done to reflect the value of our services, investment in new products, and customer service enhancements." Uh-oh.
A website called comcastwatch.com claims that Comcast (and Time Warner) increases fees far in excess of inflation. A 2004 Consumer Federation of America study sponsored by the Communications Workers of America and related labor unions found that Comcast has raised its rates 50 percent– almost three times the rate of inflation– since the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
This summer, Comcast irked Washington baseball fans when it refused to add Mid Atlantic Sports Network, which carries Washington Nationals games, to its channel lineup until ordered to do so by the FCC.
Jeff Chester at the Center for Digital Democracy objects to the FCC's approval of the two largest cable companies in America "carving up" Adelphia.
"These are big monopolies who dominate cable and high-speed Internet," says Chester, calling them "larger, more politically savvy and more ruthless companies.
"It's important to remember it's not just the cable company– it's the leading provider for broadband, and that's the lifeline of a community now," he cautions.
Even though Comcast draws a fair amount of heat, so did Adelphia. And even anti-monopolist Chester says former Adelphia customers might find better service because Adelphia offered "bad" customer service and wasn't sufficiently investing in new products.
In other words, no matter who holds the franchise, it's still going to be a monopoly, and it's still the cable company.
Adios Adelphia, hello Comcast
Adios Adelphia, hello Comcast