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Even in a country where decent service and consumer rights are not fundamental values, the cable and satellite television companies have stood out in recent years for unsurpassed chutzpah and ongoing abuse of their customers. After they branded themselves using non-Hebrew names, wasted precious time on splits and mergers, organizing and reorganizing, and above all, racked up huge losses due to unbridled internal competition and a wasteful pursuit of expensive technologies, Yes and HOT are now energetically engaged in passing the damage on to the consumer. Every few months, a new bunch of channels is erased from the converter. The fish protest to the best of their limited ability, they struggle a little, and the pleasure boat continues to sail toward its desired destination.

The shopworn trick of moving channels from the basic package into those requiring extra payment was blocked by intervention (belated but better than nothing) by the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council. Organizational streamlining or cuts in senior officials' salaries are apparently too difficult for the companies' chiefs, while the local content creator unions succeeded in protecting at least something of their eroded property rights. Thus all that was left was once again cutting back on purchasing. HOT declared that it was dropping BBC Prime, Eurosport and Adventure, while Yes dropped Star World, on the predictable (and unproven) grounds that it has very few viewers. Needless to say, the price of the basic package that subscribers pay was not reduced. Is there a more blatant example of violation of a contract between supplier and customer?

It is hard to find a group that has not been hurt in recent years by the cable and satellite companies' scornful treatment. Sports fans watched with disappointment as the sports channel was emptied of content in favor of pay-per-view channels, and now, they will have to say good-bye to Eurosport as well. Children and parents woke up one morning to discover that the Cartoon Network had been taken away from them. Lovers of highbrow culture are suffering from a strict diet, and news lovers were saved only at the last minute from the removal of CNN, thanks to a public outcry. Now it is the turn of those who enjoy British and American series. Yes and HOT are thus pulling the rug out from under the idea of multichannel television, whose entire raison d'etre lies in "niche channels."

These companies are trying to enjoy the best of all three worlds: forcing a lean but expensive basic package on the customer; collecting extra fees from him for an infinity of popular channels; and also waging war to the death to prevent the establishment of a minimal package that would include only the national channels and would cost a few dozen shekels. In such a situation of continual oppression, one would normally urge customers to vote with their feet. But most are bound by long-term contracts, fear the costs of switching to a different company and in any case can choose only between two terrible alternatives. Therefore, all that remains is to urge the communications minister and the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council to put an end to this ongoing circus. The basic package should be set in stone, and any detrimental change must be conditioned on compensation to the customers; subscription fees should be lowered; and consumers should be allowed to end their contracts with Yes and HOT the moment any changes in service are implemented.