Edison, New Jersey
January 29, 2004
7:00 p.m.

Good Evening. My name is Jose Rivera-Benitez, Deputy Ratepayer Advocate for the State of New Jersey. I am pleased to be here to voice the Ratepayer Advocate’s continuing concern regarding better accountability on the part of cable television operators in their provision of safe, adequate, and proper service to cable customers. As you know, the Ratepayer Advocate has the statutory duty to represent and protect the interests of all classes of consumers in the state of New Jersey, including residential, small business and industrial customers, in an effort to advance the interests of all New Jersey ratepayers.

First and foremost, the Ratepayer Advocate commends the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (“Board”) and the Office of Cable Television (“OCTV”) for their continued commitment to protect New Jersey consumers from improper utility and cable operator practices. This steadfast commitment is evident in the amendments to the cable regulations adopted by the BPU last year that place a strong emphasis on customer service concerns and establish safeguards to protect consumers from unreasonable procedures by cable operators. Furthermore, the regulations will strengthen the Board’s regulatory power by setting enforceable requirements for the installation of cable service, cable service appointments, answering phone calls, and the provision of outage credits to customers.

The Ratepayer Advocate recognizes that customer dissatisfaction regarding the quality and cost of cable services in New Jersey is growing at an unprecedented rate. The Board itself has received an inordinate number of customer complaints concerning billing issues, cable service interruptions, and difficulty reaching a customer service representative.

However, these cable service problems are even more intolerable for customers when coupled with high cable rates. Since deregulation of the Cable Programming Service tier cable rates on March 31, 1999, New Jersey consumers have been subject to an increase of 51.5% in these rates, greatly surpassing the Consumer Price Index of 9.43% over this same period. The escalating price of cable services has been a huge concern for regulators and legislators alike, and legislators have responded to this concern by proposing several bills aimed at fostering competition among cable companies in the hope that market forces would drive down cable rates and increase service quality. The Legislature has also proposed bills that specifically address customer service improvements for cable customers in New Jersey. Although the Board has no control over cable rates above the basic tier, it still retains the authority to implement customer service and service reliability requirements for cable operators.

The Ratepayer Advocate is hear to listen to your concerns tonight regarding Cablevision and will work with the BPU to ensure that cable customers receive prompt attention to service problems and are fairly compensated for their inconvenience.
Thank you.

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