In an age when people can binge-watch their favorite TV shows on a smartphone, it can be easy to forget that a majority of households still subscribe to cable television. While young people may be trending toward five-second Snapchat videos, the behavior of older Americans is significantly different.
Cable television is the dominant media source for seniors. A majority over the age of 65 report that cable and local television remain their top sources of news and entertainment, compared with streaming media. It’s easy to cast this as just a statistic, but for older consumers, it’s more than that. Seniors with limited mobility often rely on television as their portal to the world at large, and a way to have shared experiences with friends and family.
This means cable TV providers have a special obligation to senior citizens. Anybody would be unhappy with changes in service or price hikes but for seniors living on a fixed income, these changes are a big problem. Sudden price increases are a jolt to household budgets and the fact that cable companies often have local monopolies means seniors frequently do not have another provider to turn to if they’re being mistreated.
A case in point is Comcast, which has a history of questionable business practices including raising prices and changing features without informing customers. One consumer complaint is that the company has not adequately informed seniors about discounts to which they’re entitled. In St. Paul, Minnesota, for instance, Comcast has come under fire for misinforming seniors and denying them the discounts they should have been receiving.
In Newbury, Massachusetts, one 92-year old woman wrote to her local newspaper to blast the company and express how “fed up” she was with Comcast for refusing to include its senior discount on her bill. Other consumers, often the children of seniors, have taken to social media to complain about unfair pricing, calling out Comcast for raising prices on seniors. In another case, an 82-year old grandmother was hit with higher fees and the addition of “random charges” for programming she did not request. Comcast has even been called out by Consumer Reports for its “proliferation of add-on fees.”
Higher prices and phantom fees are not the end of it. The company is also under scrutiny for cutting services without informing customers and not adjusting their bills for these changes in service. In recent years, Comcast has engaged in unprecedented legal maneuvers to avoid license fees involving certain features such remote recording on a digital video recorder (DVR). In 2017, Comcast was forced by the United States International Trade Commission to remove the ability for consumers to remote DVR record, a feature previously promoted to customers.
Larger problems emerged when Comcast failed to fully inform consumers of the change and in many cases, seniors did not see lower bills after this service was taken away. In other words, they were paying the same but getting less. The execution of this change was lamentable and people predictably took to social media to vent their frustration. “When are they bringing back the Remote DVR recording!?” asked one customer on Twitter. “Not having remote recording from mobile is a major downgrade in service for the same exorbitant fees you charge,” said another. “It was a key feature you highlighted when I agreed to pay you $200 per month for years.”
These customers were rightly frustrated and it’s a good bet that this will not be the last time Comcast removes a feature. When any service provider cuts services, they should cut prices in response, not raise them. It shouldn’t be surprising that when a company has been caught overcharging seniors, denying seniors discounts and making unannounced service changes with no reduction in their bill that people would be upset. Less is not more, and seniors know that. It’s time for Comcast to wise up and treat its customers better. That’s not too much to ask.
Saulius "Saul" Anuzis is the president of the 60 Plus Association.