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Another Cable Operator Gives Pay-TV the Heave-Ho

Jeff Baumgartner
9/24/2019

Add Beld Internet to a very small group of US cable operators that is getting out of the pay-TV business for good amid rising costs and a surge in OTT-delivered video options.

Beld Internet, a municipal based in Braintree, Mass., previously known as Beld Broadband, announced the plan on Monday (September 23) while also posting detailed information on how its broadband customers can cut the TV cord and go with one of a multitude of streaming services.

"As of December 2, 2019, BELD will no longer offer cable television service due to costs beyond our control," Beld GM Bill Bottiggi said in a statement, noting that people who cut the cord on cable TV can save up to $100 or more each month. "So for any Braintree ... resident thinking about cutting the cord, now's the time and we'll coach you through it with straightforward, step-by-step guidance."

Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like Pay-TV
Beld Internet has launched a 'K.O. Cable' campaign as it plans to put its pay-TV service down for the count on December 2.
Beld Internet has launched a "K.O. Cable" campaign as it plans to put its pay-TV service down for the count on December 2.

The decision to exit the cable TV arm of its broadband business, the company added in its FAQ, "was a direct result of ever-increasing, out-of-control fees that BELD must pay programmers for the privilege of carrying their channels. At this point, the fees have left us no choice but to leave the cable [TV] business."

Beld Internet sounded the death knell for its pay-TV service in concert with the debut of a new gigabit offering (1 Gbit/s downstream by 300 Mbit/s upstream) for $99.95 per month via its DOCSIS 3.0 plant.

Beld joins 3 Rivers Communications, another small cable op based in Fairfield, Mont., to bug out of traditional pay-TV in recent months due to surging costs.

Beld, a not-for-profit, locally owned electric utility and Internet service provider, will be shuttering a cable TV offering that featured hundreds of TV channels. Beld also provided a relatively new VoD platform, offered in tandem with TiVo, based on VU-IT!, a program from the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) designed to help smaller, independent cable operators integrate Netflix and other OTT services alongside their regular pay-TV offerings.

In a press release, Beld Internet not only tossed its pay-TV offering under the bus, it proceeded to roll over the corpse several times for good measure, while giving the thumbs up to OTT. "Most streaming services generally cost much less than cable and eliminate the need for cable wires and unwieldy boxes (and their rental fees) on every TV. In all, streaming can save customers up to $1,000 or more each year," the company continued.

Beld Internet is also backing its plan to shut down the pay-TV service with a "K.O. Cable" message and the debut of a "Streaming 101" website that walks consumers though various OTT options.

OTT alternatives
Beld Internet references several SVoD and virtual MVPDs that can be delivered over its broadband pipes, including YouTube TV, Hulu Philo, fubo TV, Sling TV, HBO Now and the forthcoming Disney+. For local broadcast TV, Beld Internet also mentions Hulu and YouTube TV as well as Locast, the startup that streams local broadcast TV signals and also happens to be in a legal battle with ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.

Beld is also offering to set up a consumer's first streaming device for free, and a whopping $49.95 for each additional streaming device [Ed. Note: Okay, the cost for help with a second streaming device is just shameful. That's called taking advantage of a Luddite or someone who doesn't know an Apple TV box from a Granny Smith.]. Also, Beld Internet won't help consumers set up over-the-air TV antennas... they're on their own.

Despite plans to kill its legacy pay-TV offering, Beld Internet said it will continue to stream local television programming via its BCAM website.

Beld Internet and 3 Rivers represent the exception than the rule, as few cable operators have so far opted to get out of the pay-TV game altogether.

And though smaller cable operators have got to that extreme, even some larger telcos have shifted gears. CenturyLink, for example, has halted the sale of Prism TV, its managed IPTV product, and shut down a fledgling OTT-TV product in March 2018. Earlier this month, CenturyLink said it could drop cable TV service in the north suburbs of St. Paul, Minn., where it competes with Comcast, as its cable franchise agreements stand to expire in November 2020 "on a rolling basis." The city councils of Roseville and Arden Hills were set to vote on an agreement with CenturyLink on Monday night, according to The Pioneer Press.

Many other independent cable operators are moving ahead with next-gen TV products in partnership with companies such as MobiTV, TiVo, Evolution Digital and Espial.

Meanwhile, midsized operators like Cable One have completely de-emphasized pay-TV in favor of higher-margin broadband service, while US Tier 1s like Comcast are still investing in their video platforms in order to keep the rate of video sub losses in check.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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