Telecom Timeout

Sep 9 2009   8:24PM GMT

TV Caller ID in the age of personal choice

Kate Gerwig Kate Gerwig Profile: Kate Gerwig

I was minding my own business watching television last week when suddenly the name of a friend of mine appeared on my TV screen in capital letters. She is not an actress. Then the phone rang and it was her. I was suddenly the victim of a digital age, triple-play convenience feature: TV Caller ID.

At no charge, my cable provider added the feature to my service package without my knowledge or consent. Other cable providers have been rolling TV Caller ID out in a variety of markets for a year or two. Comcast’s variety, for example, blasts the caller’s name across all possible screens (TV, computer and telephone). That’s a bit too Big Brotherish for me.

Of course the new caller ID feature plays up the integration benefits of buying telephone, television and Internet from the same service provider. And TV Caller ID is being heralded as a wonderful convenience that customers are screaming for. The view from the product marketing departments is that people shouldn’t have to leave the TV screen to see who’s calling.

I have a more last-gen solution to the intrusion – I don’t answer the phone if I don’t want to talk. And guess what – I let my voicemail service take a message.

Knowing that I’m “every user,” I took a quick poll at the office. Our mini focus group had a wide range of opinions on TV Caller ID, from “I can’t live without it,” to “I don’t watch television,” to “My phone is in an inconvenient place, so I can avoid telemarketers and pick up for family and friends.” All of these points of view are valid, but so is mine.

My complaint is that I wasn’t asked if I wanted it. It simply appeared on my TV screen. I didn’t get an email or a notice printed on actual paper telling me it was available. What if I don’t want my callers’ names plastered across my TV screen? The choice should be mine.

So I took action and called customer service to find out how to turn off my free feature. My customer service rep actually argued with me about whether I liked TV Caller ID. Finally I prevailed and he told me how to disable the featured that clearly showcases fiber or coaxial cable interacting with my digital set-top box.

Most cable operators say that customer response to the feature has been overwhelmingly positive. I find it just overwhelming. The bottom line is that it’s my business, just like keeping my caller’s names confined to my phone.

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