Adelphia changes leaves some confused

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 10, 2004

Adelphia Cable's latest lineup changes have left many cable subscribers scratching their heads and wondering what it means to them.

By now, all cable customers should have received a letter from Adelphia outlining the changes that include expanding the digital lineup and modifying the different packages available.

Ironton resident Brenton Massie said he has read Adelphia's multi-page letter, but was still left searching for answers.

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"It took a couple of hours of good hard studying before it made any sense," he said. "Quite frankly, it left me with the impression that they said what they had to say, but said it in a way to confuse people and not get the full story out.

"The full story, in my opinion, is that we are seeing a $12 raise. Either you are going to drop service or increase your rates."

After reading all the paperwork, Massie said he was left with the impression that he had to subscribe to the digital plan.

However, Adelphia's non-digital plan is still available. Issues such as this have caused some of the confusion.

Massie said he is dissatisfied with the overall service and is looking to switch to a satellite provider.

Some cable subscribers have reported problems with the volume being too low on some channels and too loud on others. Adelphia representatives informed Mayor John Elam's staff Thursday that these problems have been corrected.

Mayor Elam and the Ironton City Council are asking cable customers who are experiencing problems to call or write the mayor's office, as well as Adelphia, so that the city can track the complaints. Elam said he has already received "a lot" of questions.

Larry Mathews, general manager of Adelphia's Huntington-Ashland-Ironton area, said that some customers may see a price increase, but they will be receiving more channels and more options.

"We have tried to simplify the product choices. There is Adelphia Classic Cable and (five) digital packages," he said. "We tried to simplify the process of ordering cable, tried to provide value in those packages and tried to spread the channels out so they can make a clear choice on what they need."

Most of the changes involve restructuring the available packages and adding more channels to the digital packages.

Adelphia's lowest non-digital service that includes channels 2-25 is now called "broadcast basic." This service is still available for the same price of $15.10 per month.

The "Adelphia Classic" package includes channels 2-75 for the same price as before of $42.25.

The five digital packages that range from "bronze" to "ultimate" allow for more premium movie channel packages to be added to two different digital plans. All five include the 36 "digital basic" channels. The gold, platinum and ultimate packages include these channels as well as 15 "digital plus" channels with the chosen movie packages.

For example, the "bronze pak" gives digital subscribers 2-75, 36 digital channels - 16 more than before - for $54.94, a 4-cent increase.

In all, 22 new channels will be added to the two digital plans. Approximately 47 new channels will be added to the four movie channel packages - HBO, Showtime, Starz and Multimax.

Sixteen pay-per-view sports channels will also be added.

Three channels - The Golf Channel (48), Great American Country (56) and Women's Entertainment (59) - will be removed from the "Classic" non-digital lineup and added to the digital packages.

Several channels will be shuffled within the digital plans. ESPN Classic, ESPN News, Independent Film Channel and Outdoor Life have been moved from the "Digital Basic" plan to the "Digital Plus."

VH-1 Classic Rock and VH-1 Country have been moved from the now non-existent plan called "Digital Access" to "Digital Basic."

The new "Advantagepak" plans allow subscribers to add high-speed Internet to their cable package and save money. Savings range from $21.85 to $27.45 depending upon the plan, Mathews said.

Also, the company lowered the price for the digital access box that is required to receive pay-per-view and digital music from $7 per month to $3.50 per month. Subscribers do not have to receive digital cable to receive the music channels and have the option to order pay-per-view movies, Mathews said.

In the near future, Adelphia will also make a High Definition Television signal available to its digital subscribers. HDTV requires an $8.95 monthly fee for the equipment and subscribers must also own an HDTV television set.

The digital channels were added Thursday, but the channels have not been moved from the "Classic" lineup to the digital lineup yet. The individual conversions are ongoing and have been going well, Mathews said.

Mathews said Adelphia knew these changes would be confusing, but they had hoped the letters would clarify it. Mathews said he does not anticipate any more changes in the near future. Cable customers can contact Adelphia at 1-888-683-1000.

Despite the cable company's claims to the contrary, Councilman Richard Price said he is not convinced these changes benefit customers. To keep the same service, Price said his monthly bill will go from $92.50 to $112.50.

Though this may give him a few more channels, Price said he does not think it is much of a bargain because most of the channels are of no interest to him.

The city's franchise agreement expires in 2006. However, it does not give council or the city the ability to tell Adelphia how to run its business regarding prices and channel lineup. Council can only make its opinions, and those of the community, known to the cable company.

Adelphia Communications Corp's future may be somewhat uncertain because the company is still recovering after declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2002. Published reports have indicated that Time-Warner may be looking to expand its market by purchasing Adelphia.

Some residents feel they are suffering because of the mistakes the corporation has made.

"Adelphia was put in bankruptcy by its original owners," Massie said. "I don't think the customers should have to pay their way out of it."

Adelphia has been a hot topic in the Ironton area for more than a year.

Last February, residents protested against Adelphia's plans to add adult channels to the city's cable lineup. The pay-per-view channels were added to digital service despite the protests.

In May, Adelphia began substituting WBNS Channel 10 out of Columbus, with C-SPAN, to avoid duplicating programming with WOWK Channel 13 out of Huntington, W.Va.

In June, Adelphia executives announced the company would raise its subscription rates for the second time within a year.

In September, the cable company returned WPBO to the lineup after numerous complaints. In October, Adelphia added the popular Ohio News Network to the lineup.