The Scoop on Cable Outlets

I’ve never been to formal customer service training school, but I am fairly confident that telling your customer that something they innocently propose is “illegal” isn’t the best way to engender positive feelings toward The Company.

When we moved into our house here at 100 Prince St. in July of 2000, there were cable television outlets in the den, the living room, and in the upstairs back bedroom. Being a conservative family with only one television, we took advantage of only one of these, the one in the living room, but took comfort from the possibilities afforded by the other two should our television needs expand.

When we made the flip to Eastlink digital cable last summer, we read the following in their promotional materials:

As an EastLink Digital Cable subscriber with a Variety Choice or Movie Choice package, you will receive your regular analog Cable service on up to three other outlets in your home without the need to purchase additional boxes.

And so we felt the good times would continue to roll.

It wasn’t until this week, when I went to plug a television into one of the other outlets and found no cable streaming through, that I realized that when the installer did the upgrade to digital, he had disconnected the other outlets.

Having only had positive experiences with Eastlink in the past, I phoned their customer service line, secure in the knowledge that they would quickly send someone out to hook these outlets back up.

I was wrong.

When I explained the situation to the customer service agent, she told me that these “three other outlets” were not, in fact, “three other outlets” at all but rather “service to three other televisions.” Because we only had one television when the digital installer did the installation, we had no entitlement to the additional outlets, and so they were disconnected. Without telling us.

When I suggested they simply realize the error of their ways and send someone out to reinstall what they had uninstalled, she told me I’d have to pay for this. When I suggested I could easily do this myself, her response was “well, that would be illegal.” When I pressed them on the “illegal” part of this, she had little defence, and could quote no source for this information.

I decided to ring off and seek additional information on the topic, and the following is what I received from the CRTC:

Thank you for taking the time to contact the CRTC with your questions on the use of splitters.

The Commission authorizes cable distributors to charge a basic monthly fee for the provision of cable service to a single television receiver, FM receiver, channel convertor or other terminal device. Splitters are readily available through various retail outlets and it is possible for an individual to split the cable feed. Where a cable has been split to allow for service to two terminal devices, however, the cable company is entitled to charge the basic monthly fee for each outlet.  Most cable companies allow a discount for additional outlets but this is at their discretion. Check with your cable company to find out how much they charge.  In any event, failure to pay such a fee could result in disconnection of service.  This approach is similar to that followed in the case of telephone service, where a charge is levied for each line that may be used independently of another.

There are also certain technical reasons why it is important for cable distributors to maintain control over the installation of splitters for the provision of additional outlets and to ensure that splitters are of good quality and properly installed. The use of substandard splitters and associated connectors can result in signal leakage or radiation, which may cause interference to others. Industry Canada requires cable licensees to identify and eliminate sources of radiation, and the presence of such substandard splitters in subscribers’ homes may compromise a cable operator’s ability to meet this requirement.

This suggests that at least the letter of what Eastlink told me is correct, if not the spirit. And rather than being “illegal,” self-installation of a splitter would, more properly, be considered “grounds for disconnection.” In any case, it’s not like I was proposing to do the install myself in secret — I was telling them of my proposal right there on the phone!

So I think what we have, on the customer service side, is simply an overzealous agent, misuing the language for effect. On the marketing side, however, there’s a disconnect between “outlets” and “televisions.” I’m going to write them about that; stay tuned for the response.


Alan's picture
Alan on January 28, 2003 - 20:21 Permalink

This is no different than the dish, Peter. And don’t you have to buy a secret decoder box as well for each TV or each TV will just play what is on the first one…

Ken's picture
Ken on January 29, 2003 - 01:36 Permalink

I have been to court and charged with stealing cable. After having gone on vacation I returned two weeks later to find they had served my apartment with a search warrant. That really angered me because I was not home to undo my extra connection (which was made using really crappy wire and was putting noise on the line, and set all this in motion).
Anyway, had I been home I would have disconnected it all when the warrant was served, and then seven days later they would have found nothing.
Instead I was in Cancun on vacation while they confiscated my crappy wire hookup.
So don’t steal cable, unless you use proper co-ax, terminations, and quality splitters.
The cable company was Bragg — now called Eastlink.

Andrew Chisholm's picture
Andrew Chisholm on January 29, 2003 - 04:17 Permalink

Peter, don’t be surprised if some day down the road in the near future you have an Eastlink technician visit your residence.

In my old house I called and made the same inquire that you made. I was told that I could not do it myself or I would be disconnected. A few weeks later they showed up at my door wanting to inspect the wiring. We let them in because we took their advice and never split the signal to another TV.

Joey Brieno's picture
Joey Brieno on January 29, 2003 - 12:53 Permalink

Customer Service — The connection between policy, regulations, and the intellect of the person talking to you.

If I am serving you and I know the rules, and articulate them well, whether you like it or not, that’s good customer service.

If I am serving you and I don’t know the rules, I still have the chance to provide you with “adequate” customer service by checking the rules.

If I am serving you and I don’t know the rules (and yes, that means front line staff have read and understand any specific paragraphs from CRTC rules, etc…) *AND* I try to BS you by speculating around what I think would be good for the company (or repeating an unconfirmed company line) then I’m providing you bad service.

That last scenario sounds like what you ran into.

In defense of Eastlink, I know of literally thousands of examples from personal experience where a service agaent would infuriate senior management by thinking that customers can be served well with the type of BS learned in money-sucking college courses that provide the student with nothing more than a piece of official paper.

Well, that’s not entirely true; the other thing these colleges provide the student is an expectation that they really know what they are doing. The strength of adherence to this laughable notion is proportional to the course length multiplied by the cost of tuition.

Rich's picture
Rich on November 24, 2003 - 13:51 Permalink

This is crazy…. the lines/cables in your house are yours, not the cable companies, don’t let them tell you otherwise and don’t let them in your house!
They should hook it up to the outside box and after that it is your to do with as you like in “YOUR” home. What you do with “YOUR CABLE and SIGNAL” in the privacy of your home is your business! You can have 300 hundered outlets and TVs in “YOUR” house, the key is it is for your own personal use, after all you are paying for the signal to “YOUR” home! No sharing with other homes or apartments!
Telephone lines are the same way. I have six phones on one line the telephone company doesn’t know and doesn’t care!!

Micahel's picture
Micahel on September 5, 2011 - 16:50 Permalink

I have a different cenario to present. If you subscribe to high speed internet and telephone ONLY, Eastlink will send SOME cable channels into your home. They do this for the simple reason that at this point in time they have no practicle way of preventing this. Do I have the right to split the signal (using proper connectors) and watch the few channels they are sending me?
My point is this: I did not ask for those channels and they have no way of taking them away without disconnecting my HSI and telephone.

John's picture
John on September 24, 2011 - 12:42 Permalink

Michael, I’m in exactly the same position as you. I just had Eastlink internet + phone connected and, out of curiosity, wondered whether there was TV coming through it also. To my surprise, I found I have nearly 50 channels!

I’ve considered buying a co-ax splitter. I’d be curious to hear what you did!

Jason's picture
Jason on April 4, 2013 - 21:28 Permalink

SOME channels are not sent to your house. All services with eastlink (telephone, internet and cable) are sent on the same line all the time. Cable uses a certain band of frequencies as does each other service. When you only pay for internet or telephone generally the technician will attach a filter inline with your connection filtering off the frequencies that apply to the particular service. In the case of some channels remaining, the filters used are not perfect and will allow certain frequencies or channels through that your TV tuner can use.