The Cable Customer's Bill of Rights

Over the past few days, we've received more than 1,000 horror stories about bad cable experiences: tales of bad techs, terrible service, and troubling billing practices. We used those to build a cable customer's bill of rights.

As we read our readers' stories, we noticed patterns. The same things go wrong again and again. The same things keep popping up. And it turns out, what we expect is really quite simple. We want to get what we pay for; we don't want to pay for things we don't use; we expect to be treated fairly and honestly. This is what we expect of our cable companies. These are our basic rights.

Or at least, they should be.

1. We should be able to choose the channels we want

And more to the point, we ought to be able to only pay for the channels we select. Hundreds of channels are meaningless if we only watch a dozen. We (almost) all have digital boxes now. A la carte pricing is feasible, and reasonable. Make it happen.

2. Appointments should be kept

If we've taken a half day off of work to wait for a cable technician, the tech should show up: on time, as promised. If a tech will be late, we deserve a phone call to let us know that. No shows are completely unacceptable.

3. Installation windows should be no longer than two hours

But we shouldn't have to take a half day off of work at all. We really want to be able to schedule an appointment at a particular point in time. But we understand: The cable guy has to crawl through an attic at midnight in rural New Hampshire before he can to get to us, or whatever. Fine. If you have to use a window, make it reasonable. We're willing to accept two hours. Don't make us wait longer than that.

4. Get it right the first time

Look, Kabletown, it costs you money every time you have to send a tech to our pad. Do yourself—and us—a favor: Implement a process where you verify everything to the customer's satisfaction at the end of a service appointment. The tech should arrive with all the equipment he or she needs, even if that means driving a rolling electronics shop. If you have to come out a second time, compensate us for our time.

5. Deliver the speed we pay for

Hey Mr. Cable Operator: Have you seen speedtest.net? Because we have. And all too often. Many of us are not getting the speeds we're paying for. Don't blame this on our router. Don't blame it on our Mac. We're too smart for that. And we don't care what's going on in our neighborhood. That doesn't matter! What matters is that we're paying for more than we're receiving. Fix it, or give us a refund.

6. Make our bills clear and detailed

Speaking of speed, print it on our bill. Don't say we're paying for "blast," and then make us have to go look that up online. Print that we're paying for 20Mbps downloads. Instead of printing "x6" print "six month introductory rate." Print the date that discount ends. Don't use abbreviations. Don't surprise us.

7. Our bills should be accurate

It's infuriating that we even have to mention this, but we do. Please don't bill us for services we don't use or equipment we don't have. Don't double bill us in two locations when we move. Don't end our teaser rates before they expire. Don't charge us more than you offered us on the phone.

8. Don't cap our bandwidth

Look. We like to play games. We have roommates. We stream Netflix and Hulu and ESPN. We need a lot of bandwidth. That's why we have cable Internet to begin with. Sometimes, we'll need more than 250GB a month. Sometimes, it's going to be a lot all at once. If you feel like you must institute a bandwidth cap, make that plain. Mark it in bold text on the service plan itself. Tell us when we call you to sign up. Make it just as apparent as the speed you're advertising. Better yet, why cap it at all? Give us an unlimited option. We'll pay for it. At least for now.

9. Equip your call centers to do everything

Your call centers ought to be able to handle anything we send their way, from getting a tech to our place, to fixing a problem on our bill, to getting us new equipment. We don't care where they are, just what they can do. It doesn't matter if we're calling Bangalore, India or Bangor, Maine; whoever we talk to should be able to handle all our problems. No, we don't want to hold while you transfer us. No, we don't want to call a different number.

10. Honor all your offers

No matter where you make an offer, you ought to honor it. Don't advertise one rate online and then tell us we can't have it because we called in. If you're offering a discount on the Internet, it should be available whether we call you up, walk into an office, or telex you our credit card number. All of your sales staff should know about it, and be able to access it no matter where they work. When you tell us that the offer we saw online is only available if we sign up over the Internet, we feel lied to. And we hate feeling lied to.