PEG o’ My Heart

Last year, which is to say 11 days ago, Brick described the local cable company as reneging on its agreement with area governments by moving the local access channels from its cheapest tiers, analog cable, to the more costly digital ones. This posting provoked interest among Facebook friends. They gave conflicting stories, hence some informal journalism now. (Note to any who think I should save myself for work: I did research and interviews as a Cox Communications customer, not a newsman.)

I phoned the number on Cox’s letter about the access channel move, (866) 924-6269, and got Bret (no last name given) at its Kansas-Arkansas call center, in Wichita. Later, Jan. 6, I went to the company’s Fayetteville office where Franky answered my questions. Both were friendly and patient, and apologized that Cox changed terms and policies fairly often. For example, I brought its Jan. 4 channel list, and Franky noticed that the National Geographic channel, which at the end of December was moved to analog, days later was back on low digital.

I told Bret on the phone I wanted the access channels and should not pay extra for this public service. He said Cox has a ready solution. The implication was that cable viewers must make the first move.

A digital converter box will be provided free for two years, providing tuning to the PEG (Public, Educational and Government) channels, plus a few others. The $10 one-time activation fee and monthly $5.25 converter box rental are waived for those two years. The converter unit comes with a box containing a remote control and all needed cables for older and newer TVs, Bret said.

If the customer prefers to not pick them up at the store, Cox will ship these free by FedEx. The Buy-Through Plan subscriber should be able to set up the cables, Bret said, but if not, Cox will send a technician — $33.95 for the service visit.

A later phone call to technical support revealed this intermediate tier is the “Buy-Through Plan,” a modified version of the lowest digital tier, Advanced TV Preferred. The bottom, analog tier is TV Starter ($20 for 20 channels), then one step up is what My Beloved and I have, TV Essential, about $50 before tax ($49.99 but I am rounding), with some 60 channels.

Advanced TV Preferred has a listed monthly fee of $71 before tax and provides “more than 130 channels,” for which a converter box is needed at $5.25 a month rent, or $7.25 for a converter that can process the new high-definition signal or a converter that’s also a digital video recorder. HD requires a separate HDMI cable one can buy anywhere. DVR service also carries a $10 monthly fee. DVR had been called by its popular brand Tivo and is an upgrade of the ol’ VCR.

The Buy-Through Plan continues the $50 plus tax ($57.31 on my bill) analog rate. It has those 60 analog channels, plus 10 PEG channels and the six-channel “Faith and Values Pak” of Christian programming. The PEG series includes CAT community TV, the Jones Center for Families channel, local school and city government stations, and oddly the Jewelry TV shopping channel.

Hours after leaving the the Cox store with the converter unit and accessories box, I realized that outside of a signed paper-tape receipt of the unit and cable pack, I was given nothing specific in writing. I hope I don’t have to regret that mistake.

Experienced at setting up electronic gear, I only made one tech call, to learn I needed to set both my TV and my VCR to Channel 3. The support fellow (in Wichita) said I was his first Buy-Through question. In answering his questions we both learned I was given an older digital converter box and that several key buttons on the new Cox remote control — Menu, Guide etc. — won’t work. The box does not have a socket for the HDMI cable needed for a flat-screen TV, which MB and I plan to buy soon.

Crouching behind the TV replugging dusty coax and RCA cables I toyed with going ahead with full digital, visions of watching Sundance and IFC, enticed by an online promotion: the $71 price of Advance TV Preferred is $55 a month for a year.

Cox e-mailed me the day after I set up Preferred to cancel my order.

I phoned Wichita and was told I had to pay $71, because I already have the Buy-Through Plan. I asked for a manager (Tip: Mention how attractive satellite Dish TV now looks). Jennifer the supervisor agreed the sale applied to me, and I just need to exchange the new-old digital box for the HD one.

I will remember to ask for something in writing that states my rate is $55. I’m going ahead and publishing this now, as something else may go whacky before I can watch National Geographic, and MB gets Oprah’s new OWN channel.

* * * is arranged like a maze, and print-outs of pages are messed up. Cox is an Internet service provider. If it can’t maintain a navigable website, is its broadband reliable?

To arrange for service that the cable viewer for years got by ordering basic or extended now requires the time-consuming, deliberately misleading, nickel-and-diming of choosing a cell-phone service, buying a car and reserving flights.

Two of the Facebook friends upset about the PEG channels, a couple, said my account is different from theirs and of two people they know. None in short was offered the Buy-Through Plan. They want to know what happens after two years.

The PEG channels are not required by law or FCC policy. They’re part of the bid, negotiated in the franchise agreement between the winning cable company and local government.

The PEG channels for me is a lesser issue. The concern is why officials have not responded to the change in service. It’s also hard to understand why few residents seem to have complained to City Hall or the news media or blogged about it. In utility contracts a government acts as the advocate of residents and is responsible for enforcing terms. Fayetteville has long been known statewide as feisty, but has it become resigned to losing perks?

3 thoughts on “PEG o’ My Heart

  1. As the Station Manager of UATV, the student-run TV station of The University of Arkansas, I have mixed feelings about the change from 14 to 214. We lose those channel surfers cruising those lower numbers, but we get the benefit of our own channel. For too long, UATV was sharing programming time with the local high schools, and had zero brand recognition.

    With our own channel, viewers can now depend on us for quality documentaries and student produced content. I guess time will tell if the switch was worth it.

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