For college students eager to savor any opportunity to relax, access to quality cable TV is a perennial concern. The university has long offered a single cable option to students living in on-campus residence halls and apartments. Last year’s campus-wide switch to provider RCN, however, leaves us asking for more.

As recently as the 2008-2009 academic year, cable was ordered and paid for through Student Access+, the precursor to MyAccess, and managed by University Information Services. The service cost $37.50 per month and provided 70 channels. Students had only one option for provider, services and price.

With last year’s RCN partnership came an expansion of the quality and diversity of channel offerings. Channel options more than doubled, increasing to 180 channels. In addition, premium options, like sports packages, were made available for purchase. The base price also increased by over 40 percent to $53.95, however – a steep premium for those trying to survive on a college budget. RCN attempted to mediate the cost complaints this year by creating two channel packages: Essentials for $29.95 per month, which does not provide cable news networks or sports stations, not to mention college favorites such as Comedy Central; the second package, Signature, comes with a hefty price tag of $56.95 per month and includes most commonly watched networks.

Without a doubt, RCN’s current deal offers some benefits to students, who can pick up cable boxes on campus at the RCN office in St. Mary’s Hall, for example. But beyond saving students an installation charge or transportation hassle, the office does little else. Poor customer service and spotty business hours only worsen the company’s image in the eyes of students with hectic schedules.

Though RCN’s underwhelming efforts to boost cable choices this academic year show at the surface, the lack of on-campus competition lies at the core of the problem. Like the previous UIS interface, students still only have one option for provider, prices and service. A monopoly allows RCN to keep rates high and service mediocre.Though accommodating multiple service providers may be difficult for the university, diversity of choice could lead to lower prices and better service. Adding alternative cable options on campus would force RCN to compete for student business. If the university isn’t willing to consider that idea, for financial or logistical reasons, it should at the very least consider choosing an exclusive cable provider that would give students enough feasible options so that access to cable – cable news channels at the very least – would not empty their wallets.

With steep prices and unreliable service, RCN has not sealed up the gaps in student cable TV options. The university ought to bring in a new set of players if it wants to ensure student satisfaction.

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