Offer cable TV service on an a-la-carte basis

The Time Warner-MSG debate is not about "giving customers the sports they love at a price they can afford to pay," as recently stated by a Time Warner spokesman. CEO Glenn Britt showed his hand in the standoff between his company and MSG on Dec. 22 in the Wall Street Journal, saying that sports channels should be sold separately from the main package of channels. That's what this impasse is really about. Time Warner wants to shift sports channels to a separate tier, resulting in additional charges to subscribers.

Cable TV costs have gotten out of hand. My family currently pays Time Warner $77.50 per month, after a price increase Dec. 1, for basic and standard cable service. We regularly watch fewer than 15 channels from these packages. If Time Warner creates a separate tier for sports channels at an additional charge, it will experience a customer exodus from cable TV. Who wants to pay extra to watch felons play basketball? The current performance of the Sabres is no drawing card for MSG. The quality of its camera work for hockey games needs improvement. Hire someone to show the cameramen how to stop jerking the camera around. The viewer cannot follow the puck. We pay for this?

The reasons both sides offer for their positions in this dispute support the logic that it is time for cable TV service to be made available to subscribers on an a-la-carte basis. The cable company's pay-per-view and movies-on-demand options clearly illustrate that this can be done technically. Where are Sen. Charles Schumer and the Federal Communications Commission on this one? They could easily resolve this crisis by representing the consumer and taxpayer through legislation designed to quash this constant money grab.

Carolyn Gierke



Croce should have waited another year for Ice Ball

I bought two tickets to the Ice Ball for myself and my fiance. What a disappointment, to say the least! If this was truly the advent of a "new era for the grande dame of downtown," as Mark Croce declared, then how sad for Buffalo.

Closed coat checks, cracked plaster and exposed wiring, impossibly long lines for food and cocktails, and a general lack of direction led us to leave his establishment within 30 minutes of arriving. We left sober, hungry and disgruntled, to put it nicely.

Perhaps he should have waited another year for renovations to be completed, and hired a consultant to coordinate and properly staff an event of this magnitude. Our first (and last) impression of this "grand" Buffalo landmark was painfully familiar: well-dressed Buffalonians spending their hard-earned dollars waiting for something great to materialize, like a Super Bowl ring or a Stanley Cup. I guess we will have to continue to wait.

Deborah J. Kiefer



Seek professional advice when choosing pension

On Dec. 21 a reader wrote that she regretted taking a reduced pension with a survivor benefit for her husband, who was then ill and is now deceased. Many such mistakes are made possible because employees often receive little guidance when it comes time to elect a pension distribution option -- a choice that is typically irreversible. In the reader's case, if it were available, a "pop-up" option would have been desirable, and would have restored her full benefit when her husband predeceased her.

Another reasonable choice in this case may have been for her to take an unre-duced, straight life option given that her husband was already so ill, and that she couldn't afford the reduction in income from taking the survivor option.

It's important that people seek professional guidance when faced with the need to make an irreversible pension election. For most people, it is worth the "forced gamble" of a small reduction in pension benefits for a survivor benefit, in order to ensure that the pension income will not end up going to no one at all in the event of an early death.

Tim Sobolewski, CFP



Stop charging us fees just to pay our bills

Recently the Bank of America was prepared to charge its customers a fee for the privilege of using its ATMs; Verizon then attempted the same ploy.

On Jan. 3, I used the Internet (as usual) to pay my National Fuel bill. Much to my chagrin, it is now charging me $3.95 for the privilege of paying my bill! Moreover, it encourages its customers to go "green," thereby sending us our bill via the Internet. Will I now be charged for opening the email that has my bill attached?

There are better ways for National Fuel to boost profits, like delivering better services to its customers, or perhaps by decreasing its CEO's million-dollar salary and administrative costs.

Nonetheless, something must be done to prevent these various agencies from arbitrarily assessing "fee" charges for the privilege of accessing our money and paying our bills.

Sherry Bradford

Grand Island


Insurer should cover 'observation' period

I read with interest the article, "When preventative medicine turns diagnostic, patients pay." I had a similar experience with my insurance carrier. After examining all health care options during open enrollment, my family made a decision to go with the deductible health maintenance plan because most of our health care was of a preventative nature. Much thought and computation went into this decision.

Imagine my surprise, upon taking my daughter for the third dose of a preventative immunization for HPV/cervical cancer, when I was billed a co-pay for the "observation" period she received for 10 minutes post-immunization. We only went to the physician's office for this injection. No examination was performed. Her blood pressure, temperature or weight were not recorded. She was strictly there to receive the immunization. The drug manufacturer recommends an observation period after receiving the shot to make sure no immediate side effects occur. Mind you, the observation period consisted of us being left in the exam room for 10 minutes and then leaving without any interaction with the staff.

The insurance company denied payment for this observation period because it did not consider it part of the immunization or preventative care. I argued my point all the way up the complaint ladder, only to be denied at every step. Ultimately, the company blamed it on my physician's office for its coding and charging for this observation. I equate the insurance company touting that it pays for preventative care in full to a hairdresser who shouts "free haircuts" and then charges you to sweep the floor once your hair has been cut. Next time, I'll observe my daughter in the car and bring her back in if there's an issue.

Christine M. Roach