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The Dish on Dish, Part V

11:00 AM -- TV is a BFD.

The FCC's latest cable competition report says the average U.S. household tuned into television for 8 hours, 11 minutes a day, and the average person watched TV a total of four hours, 32 minutes a day.

My point? Any new service provider getting into TV service delivery is making a huge commitment to customer service. And a lot of them won't be up to the task.

DISH Network provides what I consider to be the best picture, at the best price of all the options available in my neighborhood. My other options, by the way, are competing services by Charter Communications Inc. and DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV)

But even with quality in its corner, DISH frequently loses points on customer service. And I doubt a lot of folks would put up with as much garbage as I do. Not everyone will agree to climb on their roofs and inspect their diplexer connections for blog material. (Okay, I wasn't looking for blog material on the diplexer connection itself. Poor wording on my part.)

If there were more real, high-quality competitors out there, would DISH be so carefree about tending to its subscribers? Would Charter's digital cable picture still have as much snow as the Rocky Mountains?

I think not.

The FCC says the "competitive presence of MVPDs [multichannel video programming distributors] other than cable or DBS [digital broadcast satellite] declined" between 2004 and 2005. Less than 3 percent of U.S. MVPD subscribers get their services from somewhere other than cable or satellite.

While some new competitors have emerged in high-rent subdivisions, most of us are stuck with the same two or fewer choices we've had since the late 1980s. While that reality does suck, there are some things you can do to make the jump to HDTV as painless as possible:

  • Budget carefully: HD is still relatively new. The average consumer upgrade will take longer and will cost more than you might think. Same rule applies if you're getting married.
  • Compare services, not hardware: The fancy set-top boxes are nice, but you really should choose a TV provider based on how its channels look on comparable TVs at a friend's house, at an electronics store, etc.
  • Ask again: If you're working to solve a TV service problem, call customer service twice, at different times of the day, and compare notes. Most cable and satellite customer service folk are poorly-trained. Some are based in other countries and all they're allowed to do is read from a script. It's not their fault, but they don't always know what they're talking about.
  • Try rabbit ears: With mustard. I'm kidding. What I mean is: In some areas, the quality and availability of over-the-air HDTV programming is as good as what's on the local cable system. If 80 percent of your viewing needs are filled by the major networks, you win!
  • Drink more water and less soda: Not HD-related. It's just good all-around advice.

    — Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading

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