Cable Television: Regulation and Consumer Concerns
In 2006, Indiana legislation changed the way cable television companies and new video service providers (VSPs) receive authority to do business in the state. (The changes do not affect satellite TV service providers.)
Cable TV companies and video service providers need “franchise” authority before they can offer TV service in Indiana. Before 2006, Indiana cable companies negotiated franchise agreements with local governments (including cities, towns and counties). The state’s 2006 video service law shifted franchising authority to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) for all franchise requests made after July 1, 2006. Under the law:
- The IURC can authorize video service providers to serve the entire state, specific communities, or specific geographic areas as requested by the companies.
- While IURC-issued franchising authority allows a provider to serve certain areas, providers are not required to extend service to specific communities or areas. (This is a significant change from local franchise agreements previously granted by local governments.)
- Some cable companies continue to operate under local franchising agreements already in effect on July 1, 2006. As those agreements expire, those companies will need to obtain authorization from the IURC.
- The IURC is tasked with tracking cable/video customer complaint information and filing reports with the Indiana Legislature.
- The IURC is enforcing the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) cable service standards at the state level.
A video service provider operating under an IURC-issued certificate of franchise authority (CFA) must offer a “basic service tier” (also referred to as “limited basic service”). Limited basic service must include programming from all local broadcast TV stations, including any local public, educational and governmental (PEG) channels.
Aside from those basic requirements, video service providers have discretion to decide which TV channels and programming to offer, whether to offer digital music channels, what content to include, and whether to carry local radio stations.
Video service providers are also free to set their own charges for pay-per-view and pay-for-channel programming, without any government regulation.
While Indiana law requires state-authorized video service providers to reserve spectrum for PEG channels, it does not require them – in most situations – to provide funding, infrastructure or other resources (including equipment and staff).
The FCC’s customer service standards, which the IURC is now enforcing, require state-authorized video service providers to:
- Offer a customer service phone line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- During regular business hours (and under normal circumstances), a customer service representative should answer a call within 30 seconds once a connection is made, with transfer times of 30 seconds or less (90 percent of the time – measured on a quarterly basis). Callers should receive busy signals no more than 3 percent of the time.
- After normal business hours, the customer service line may be answered by voice mail or an outside answering service. Calls received after hours must be returned by a trained company representative on the next business day.
- Make its customer service employees available to the public by phone during some evening hours and/or weekend hours at least once each week.
- Provide convenient bill payment locations.
- Provide at least 30 days advance written customer notice before changing rates or programming.
- Provide itemized bills.
- Respond to any written complaint about a billing issue within 30 days.
- Start working on restoring service interruptions within 24 hours of notification under normal operating conditions (at least 95 percent of the time – measured on a quarterly basis).
- Limit “appointment windows” for service and installation calls to no more than four hours. If the company must cancel or reschedule the appointment, it must notify the customer before the close of business on the last business day before the scheduled appointment.
- Deliver closed captioning data to all customers.
- Provide an overview to each customer specifically describing its complaint process, billing procedures, service and installation policies, and an update of its products, services and channel locations. This information must be provided when service is installed, once a year following service installation, and whenever a customer specifically requests it.
This is not a complete listing or summary of the FCC cable service standards adopted by the IURC. More information is available through the Website links at the bottom of this page.
Satellite television service providers are not regulated by state and local government authorities. Consumer complaints and concerns regarding satellite service should be filed with the FCC.
Contact information for cable/video service providers and franchising authorities should be printed on your monthly cable bill.
Local Franchising Agreements:
If your provider is still operating under a local franchising agreement, you should contact the appropriate local government entity (technically known as your "local franchising authority") with any questions or complaints about:
- Rates, charges and fees for cable service.
- Customer service problems, such as billing disputes or irregular office hours.
- Signal quality.
- Use of public, educational and governmental (PEG) channels.
IURC-Issued Franchising Authority:
Consumers whose service providers have state-issued franchising authority should take the following steps to address service complaints or concerns:
- Promptly contact the service provider and attempt to resolve any issues.
- If the problem is not resolved, contact the IURC (toll-free at 1-800-851-4268 or online at www.in.gov/iurc) to report any complaints or concerns.
- Be aware that cable TV companies and other video service providers are considered competitive entities. Consumers may have other alternatives (including satellite TV and other competing cable or video service providers).
- Promptly report any service outages directly to your cable/video service provider.
FCC Video Customer Service Standards:
The following Website includes links to numerous sections in the Code of Federal Regulations. Four sections should be of particular interest:
- 76.309 - Customer service obligations
- 76.1602 - Customer service: General information
- 76.1603 - Customer service: Rate and service changes
- 76.1619 - Information on subscriber bills
Indiana Video Service Law:
Public Law 27-2006, Section 58 (effective 3-14-2006) – Indiana Code 8-1-34:
Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor
115 W. Washington St., Suite 1500 South
Indianapolis, IN 46204