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Cable Technology Feature Article

October 17, 2008

FCC Fines Cox, Time Warner Cable for Failing to Provide Full Access to HD Channels

By Michael Dinan, TMCnet Editor

Saying cable subscribers in two states were prevented from watching certain channels, federal authorities this week reportedly fined two industry giants a combined $60,000 plus refunds.
By using switched digital video technology, Time Warner Cable Inc. and Cox (News - Alert) Communications Inc. effectively prevented some Hawaii and Virginia residents from watching some high-definition sports and entertainment channels, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
“It’s not fair for consumers to pay the same prices for fewer channels,” Robert Kenny, a spokesman for the FCC (News - Alert), reportedly told The Associated Press.
Time Warner Cable was fined $40,000, and Cox was fined $20,000. The companies also must refund subscribers to make up for the lost channel access.
The $20,000 isn’t much for Cox. Yet it’s not the first time that the company has been accused of interfering with the very services that it provides.
As TMCnet reported, about a month after vowing to produce better network management techniques, the major U.S. cable broadband provider this summer was accused of slowing down peer-to-peer traffic over the Web.
Cox – together with Comcast (News - Alert) – was accused of slowing down BitTorrent traffic during peak times, according to the study, from the Germany-based Max Planck Institute for Software Systems.
In this latest charge, Cox is accused – along with Time Warner (News - Alert) Cable – of using  technology that effectively prevented consumers with cable cards from getting several channels, such as high-definition sports and entertainment channels.
Instead of streaming all channels at the same time, switched digital video technology streams channels to a viewer only when a viewer selects them – a strategy that saves bandwidth for cable operators, giving them more space to deploy HD channels – an important piece of competing with satellite TV.
But the switched digital technology requires two-way communication – and consumers that have digital cable-ready TVs and digital video recorders, those who use one-way cable cards instead of cable set-top boxes, cannot send signals upstream.
“New York-based Time Warner Cable and Cox, of Atlanta, argued that only a small percentage of customers use one-way cable cards and switched digital benefits the majority of subscribers,” according to the AP.
Justin Venech, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable, reportedly said the company “does not agree with the notice and will be responding accordingly.”
Cox reportedly put out a statement saying simply that it doesn’t agree with the FCC ruling.
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Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan