Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on June 1, 2009
V erizon communications hasn’t been at the business of delivering television to subscribers’ homes for very long, but it has already developed some of the worst habits of the incumbent cable companies. I’ve generally been happy with my Verizon FiOS service since switching from Comcast some months ago. In particular the quality of the high-definition TV signal that Verizon delivers is significantly better than Comcasts’.
This week, however, I got a sense of the extent to which Verizon has turned into a cable company. I finally got around to replacing an ancient analog TV in the kitchen with an inexpensive HD set. My one requirement for the TV wat that it have an HDMI input, which allows a single cable to deliver audio and video from the set top box. But when I went to hook up the new set to the Motorola box from Verizon, I discovered that it was a standard-definition box with neither HDMI nor component outputs.
My wife took up the chore of finding out how to exchange the box for an HD box. She immediately encountered a run-around worthy of any cable company: customer service reps who could not handle a simple request (including the location of the nearest Verizon outlet that could handle the exchange), calls the dropped while being transferred, the works. Then there was the bad news: The HD box would cost $10 a month, up from $6 for the standard definition one (I figure that Verizon will recover the actual extra cost in the first month.)
Former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin enjoyed busting cable companies' chops, but his FCC never made a serious effort to enforce a 1996 congressional mandate that cable operators facilitate a market for consumer-owned, retail set top boxes. It's long past time for the new FCC to end the tyranny of the cable company-owned box, and extend the requirement to Verizon and AT&T, which are now cable operators in all but name.