When Time Warner Cable raises rates each November, it places blame on programmers who own channels such as National Geographic and on broadcast companies who own local TV stations.
This year, it's no different.
The cable company said it's asking customers to pay $4 more per month for basic cable because it is being charged more for its programming. The company also is raising rates for its Internet service.
However, the nation's second-largest cable company is fighting those content providers with a national advertising campaign. Time Warner hopes its new Web site and newspaper and TV ads put pressure on programmers to give the cable company better rates.
Time Warner launched a Web site Wednesday where customers can vote on whether they prefer to pay more for channels or to urge the cable company to stand up to programmers.
Melissa Buscher, a spokeswoman for Time Warner in the Carolinas, said TV companies are selling their programming at a higher cost to make up for lost revenue.
"We are finding in some cases that we are paying up to 300 percent more when the contracts come up for renewal," Buscher said.
Deals expiring this year include those with The Weather Channel; most of News Corp.'s Fox stations and FX cable channel; Sinclair Broadcast Group's TV stations; and Scripps Networks Interactive, which owns Food Network and HGTV.
The TV-network owners say they want to be fairly compensated for programming as costs are rising.
In the past, Time Warner agreed to higher prices because it did not want to lose customers by dropping channels with popular shows, including AMC's Mad Men or even Fox's The Simpsons.
Now, the cable company says it will let consumers weigh in on the decision.
"We're trying to resolve these issues with our customers being held hostage over their favorite shows," Buscher said.
In the meantime, Time Warner's customers will find their rates on the rise for 2010.
The company included its new prices in November bills mailed earlier this month. Cable and Internet service are going up; phone prices remain the same as 2009.
- Basic cable increased $4 a month to $59.95. Two years ago, basic cable cost $52.99 a month.
If you have digital cable and a DVR box, your bill will go up even more.
- Customer will pay $18.29 per month for the digital tier, box and remote, an 18 percent increase over last year.
- Road RunnerLite, the basic Internet plan, will go up $3 per month to $27.95.
- Internet and cable bundles also will increase, although the amount varies based on the package.
Buscher said cable customers will get their money's worth, especially digital cable customers.
This month, Time Warner is rolling out an interactive program guide called Navigator. The feature will provide better show descriptions, enhanced search options and more parental controls.
Some households already have been upgraded while others will be within the next few weeks. The cable company is performing the upgrade in stages, depending on the type of cable box the customer uses, Buscher said.
"Unlike that gallon of milk where the price goes up and you get a gallon of milk, we're charging you more, but you're getting more services for your money," she said.
However, customers such as Joseph Gadberry of Columbia disagree. He's been a Time Warner customer off and on for 15 years. He dropped his cable after last year's rate increase. But he recently signed back up after receiving a special offer for digital cable for $29.99 a month for one year.
"I'll do it for a year and then cancel it after that because it will go back up.
"I'm just tired of Time Warner upping and upping the rates," Gadberry said. "It's getting ridiculous, especially in this economy."
It's not clear whether the public response will be any good when past ads accusing programmers of price-gouging haven't stopped fee increases. And the survey is far from scientific, as people will be choosing to participate; legitimate surveys generally choose respondents at random.