Seattle residents don’t always agree on things, to say the least, but they are increasingly united in their sentiments about the city’s incumbent cable TV providers — with many preparing to drop cable television service altogether if things don’t improve.
Cable TV subscribers have declined to 59 percent — down 13 percentage points since 2009 — among the more than 2,600 residents surveyed for the city’s 2014 Information Technology Access and Adoption report, released last night. The number of cable TV subscribers is lower, 48 percent, among 18- to 25-year-olds in the survey.
Looking ahead, about 46 percent of those in the survey say they are at least somewhat likely to drop their cable TV service within the next five years.
Comcast is the largest cable provider in the city, followed by Wave. We’ve contacted representatives of both companies for comment on the report. The city says its analysis of customer satisfaction in the survey found no distinction in the results for either cable provider, with sentiments being similar for both.
(Update: See responses from Wave and Comcast below to the city’s report.)
Among people surveyed by phone, those who were very satisfied with cable company customer service declined from 21 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in the latest survey. Among those who submitted the survey online, only 4 percent were very satisfied with customer service, while 18 percent were very dissatisfied.
Price was the biggest complaint. More than 80 percent of respondents said their rates for cable service were too expensive.
The availability of video and television programming over the Internet is a big driver of the trend, but in many cases, residents end up turning to the same companies for Internet service. The city of Seattle has pursued the idea of using its own “dark fiber” infrastructure to provide high-speed Internet access to businesses and residents, but a deal with Gigabit Squared to roll out that service fell through last year.
Seattle’s franchise agreement with Comcast, the largest cable TV and high-speed Internet provider in town, expires in 2016. Mayor Ed Murray said in April that the city had already begun reviewing its Comcast relationship.
Update: Here’s a statement from Wave CEO Steve Weed in response to GeekWire’s inquiry about the report.
We agree that Cable content simply costs subscribers too much. Wave’s long-term vision is that customers here in Seattle and elsewhere should be able to watch exactly what they want, when and where they want it, not be bound by content packages determined by others. Unlike Comcast, Wave does not own content nor are we affiliated with any content providers. Our long-term vision is to allow customers to get content from anywhere they want, backed by our reliable network and great service.”
From a customer satisfaction standpoint, we very recently completed a major network upgrade following our 2012 acquisition of our Seattle assets and believe that our ratings locally will reflect the superior customer service ratings we have throughout our other key markets. We have consistently received some of the industry’s very highest customer satisfaction ratings and and are confident this will happen in Seattle now that our network upgrade has been completed. More broadly, we have invested heavily in building and training a world-class customer service team based here in the Seattle area, something that is paying dividends for our customers’ experience and for us as a company.
And here is a statement from Comcast spokesman Steve Kipp about the Seattle report.
We have long faced a changing technology landscape when it comes to the delivery of video content; and, we all want more for less when it comes to most services. We also recognize there is a growing digital divide in the city and have taken steps to improve broadband adoption among low-income families. So what are we doing to respond to this changing landscape? Here are five main areas we are focusing on:
Community: in an effort to help bridge the digital divide, we provide $12 million a year in complimentary services to 450 locations, including community centers, schools and nonprofit organizations as part of our franchise with the City of Seattle. In addition, more than 1,100 students within the Seattle School District have signed up for our Internet Essentials service, offering broadband service for $9.95 a month and a computer for $150 to families with at least one child enrolled in the National Free and Reduced Lunch Program.
Our network: In Seattle, we’re spending $30 million a year to maintain and improve our broadband network. We have more than 300 miles of fiber optic lines within the city limits and those numbers are growing annually as we increase the capacity of our network and push our fiber lines closer to homes. We have increased our Internet speeds 12 times in the last 13 years
Innovation: We view video as complimentary to our offerings, which is one reason we’ve created applications across devices to give our customers video wherever and whenever they want it. Our Xfinity To Go app offers our customers 50 live channels and more than 25,000 on demand choices on their mobile devices.
The X1 Platform: this is our newest operating system and was developed by more than 1,000 Comcast engineers working in Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco. We have just scratched the surface of its capabilities. But it will utilize cloud-based technology to make the TV experience smarter, richer and more personalized. Early returns have been very good. Customer demand is high and our research shows that customers are more likely to stick with us when they have our X1 platform in their homes.
Business: we are a fast growing competitor in the business space, offering businesses scalable Ethernet services of 1GB to 10 GB. We also recognize the economic development importance of broadband services, proactively running fiber optic lines in commercial areas to encourage growth.
Here’s the full text of the city’s findings. See our earlier report for more.
[Editor's Note: Wave Broadband and Comcast Business Solutions are GeekWire sponsors.]