Some Harford senior citizens are up in arms about a cable televisiondiscount offer that asks them to disclose more about their personal income than the Internal Revenue Service does.
To qualify for the monthly discount of $2 from Comcast Cablevision of Harford County, subscribers must be over 60 and have annual incomes of less than $17,000.
The two-page application asks for details of all income, including dividends and capital gains and gifts of more than $300. The IRS does not require recipients to report gifts of any size.
"I was shocked. I think it is a horrendous invasion of privacy and very demeaning," said Ermine Hauchman of Aberdeen, after she picked up an application at the company office. "It is certainly not worth the $2 a month discount."
The senior citizen discount, offered to subscribers in their monthly March billing, coincides with a $2 monthly increase in basic service charge, which rises to $23.50 next month.
"I thoughtit was a very positive thing. We've approved close to 100 applications," said Pat Donovan, director of operations for the cable company. Comcast has received "a couple of complaints" about the income limit,she said.
Comcast's mailing explained that there was an income aswell as age qualification, Donovan noted.
"It doesn't say you have to fill out all of these things" on the application, she said. Information is kept confidential, she said.
Similar Comcast cable discount programs for senior citizens have operated without complaint in Baltimore and Howard counties, she said.
Many businesses offer modest discounts to seniors with proof of age, but the Harford Office onAging says it knows of none that require proof of financial status.
Comcast, based in Philadelphia, has about 35,000 subscribers in the southern half of Harford County. Clearview CATV Inc. of Lancaster, Pa., which has 6,000 subscribers in northern Harford, does not offer a senior discount.
Donovan said the cable company offered its discount as a way for senior citizens offset the price increase.
Comcast also offers a limited service for reception of 10 broadcast channels at $7.95 monthly.
Gunther Bienes, a Havre de Grace resident andsenior, said, "The discount was a phony offer, they didn't really want to give them out.
Bienes canceled his cable subscription in protest. "It's none of their business how much people make," he said.
The Harford Office on Aging has received a few complaints about the financial disclosure requirement, said Director James Macgill. But the county does not regulate cable fees or discounts.
Comcast asked the Office on Aging to process applications, Macgill said, but the agency decided "it would not be appropriate for our office to be involved in steering people to a private company."
In Baltimore County, the Department of Aging processes seniors' applications for cable discounts, which range from 15 percent to 30 percent of the $24.14 monthly charge if income is below $17,000 annually. The usual cable installation fee of $49.95 is waived for citizens 60 and older.
When Harford resident Ruth Cunliffe added premium movie channels to her Comcast cable television service a month ago, she was told that the company was planning to offer a senior discount.
"With a (cable) bill ofalmost $50 a month now, we were happy to hear that," the Havre de Grace woman said. "But with all the questions they ask about your income, it isn't worth the $2. It's not much to quibble about, it's the principle of the thing."