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Cable Subscribers Increase Before Digital Transition

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The nation's largest cable TV company announced a nearly 40 percent jump in earnings for the most recent quarter, but consumer advocates say Comcast and other cable companies could be profiting from customer confusion. From Philadelphia, Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE: In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts stopped short of calling the business recession-proof. But...

Mr. BRIAN ROBERTS (CEO, Comcast Corporation): When times are tough, people want to watch television, now even as much they want to be on the Internet and be connected.

ROSE: Roberts acknowledged that the company lost some basic cable subscribers, though he says the decline was more than made up for by 400,000 new digital subscribers, people who either switched from regular cable or simply signed up for digital cable. But that worries Joel Kelsey of Consumers Union. The nonprofit publisher of consumer reports sent a letter to Congress yesterday urging an investigation into whether Comcast is trying to profit from the upcoming transition from analogue broadcast TV to digital.

Mr. JOEL KELSEY (Policy Analyst, Consumers Union): Large cable companies are taking advantage of the transition and the confusion in the marketplace right now, and using that as an excuse to move customers to a more expensive plan.

ROSE: Consumers Union also says Comcast has moved some popular cable channels to digital only, in effect forcing consumers to upgrade or accept fewer channels for the same price.

Mr. KELSEY: We're hearing from many consumers that their cable companies are taking away some channels, requiring them to rent more expensive set-top boxes.

ROSE: Comcast officials deny there's anything deceptive going on. For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.