Satellites

US satellite TV cos strive to be customer-oriented

CALIFORNIA: Satellite TV service providers in the US are gearing up to expand their customer base by aggressively tapping new geographic locations and becoming more customer-friendly.

A multichannel report says that Comcast Corp. will bring HDTV a little closer to Tinseltown, launching HDTV (High Definition TV) in the Hollywood area from 29 May onwards.

The list of cities on tap for HDTV includes Hollywood, Santa Clarita, Inglewood, Culver City, Pomona, Bellflower, Costa Mesa, Tustin, Corona and Lake Elsinore, among others.

The report also says that Comcast will launch with the local ABC, NBC, PBS and Fox affiliates, along with Home Box Office and Showtime. The HDTV programming and rental of the HDTV decoder is priced at $5 per month. 

Meanwhile, satellite companies continue to beat cable operators in customer-satisfaction surveys. DirecTV Inc. topped the American Customer Satisfaction Index compiled by the University of Michigan, scoring a 72.

It was followed by direct-broadcast satellite rival EchoStar Communications Corp. (68), Time Warner Cable (61) and Charter Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp., which each scored a 55. EchoStar, the nation's second-largest satellite TV provider, with 8.5 million subscribers at the end of March and second to DirecTV's 11.4 million, reported a $58 million profit in the first quarter. MSOs in the "other" category drew a 60. 

Another report says that EchoStar Communications Corp. has agreed to pay $5 million to settle customer complaints about its satellite TV service in 13 states, Colorado's attorney general was quoted as saying on 22 May 2003.

Prosecutors in those states had been investigating EchoStar for allegedly violating consumer protection laws with misleading advertisements, but no lawsuits have been filed.

EchoStar executives said the company had not broken any laws but agreed to the settlement to avoid potentially long and costly litigation. The Littleton, Colo.-based company agreed to change advertisements and other sales literature for its Dish Network and to improve procedures for customers to cancel service and resolve complaints quickly.

"Customer satisfaction has always been a top priority for our company," chairman and chief executive officer Charles Ergen was quoted as saying in a statement.

The settlement involves about 1,800 complaints from consumers who felt the Dish Network misled them about pricing and contract issues, and charged their bank accounts or credit cards without consent, Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar said. Some people had complained that the ads failed to disclose a $240 early termination fee and extra charges for local programming, Salazar said.

About $3 million of the settlement will be used to compensate consumers, and the rest will be used to cover the cost of the states' 18-month investigation.

The settlement will take effect in September. Consumers who file complaints will be compensated at an amount to be determined by the attorney general in each state.

"I think the message to all those businesses in this state and in this country is first and foremost be up front with your customers," Salazar said. "If you don't, you may end up in an investigation like EchoStar was in."

The states involved are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Wisconsin.

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