TWC is offering customers little in return for its latest rate hikes

The thing is, each of those other companies posted gains in subscribers last year, suggesting higher levels of customer satisfaction. Time Warner is making its shrinking pool of TV subscribers pay more yet is doing precious little to ease their pain.

What Time Warner and other pay-TV companies should do is offer smaller packages of channels that at least hew closer to subscribers' interests. Movie buffs should not be paying for sports channels they don't want. English speakers should not be paying for foreign-language channels.

Ideally, people would pay only for the channels they want — so-called a la carte programming — but this would require programmers and distributors to cooperate in serving consumers' best interests.

That's not going to happen without a prodding from lawmakers, who have grown complacent enjoying a steady diet of political donations from the industry.

Time Warner says things will only get better once Comcast takes over.

"This deal truly is a dream combination," Time Warner Cable Chief Executive Rob Marcus said at an investment conference last week. "It allows us to innovate at a rapid pace. And the value creation opportunity is huge."

Unfortunately, it looks like all that value creation will benefit the companies, not customers.

An elite edge?

This is the time of year when many high school students receive glossy packets saying they've been selected to participate in an elite "leadership" event that can only improve their chances of getting into a top college.

A young reader in Monrovia passed along a packet she received recently from the National Student Leadership Conference, a nonprofit organization that helps high-school students "develop essential leadership skills" at get-togethers held on college campuses.

"For over 25 years, a select group of student leaders from across the country and around the world have come to the NSLC for a truly unique experience," the accompanying letter said.

"We have found that participation in the NSLC is of interest to college admission officers, who seek motivated and academically talented students like you," it said.

Is that true? I asked Michael K. McKeon, dean of admissions at Saint Mary's College of California.

"That's absolute crap," he responded. "The only thing something like that would tell me is that you got fleeced."

And these things aren't cheap. The National Student Leadership Conference comes with a so-called tuition of about $3,000.

It's entirely possible that attending such events can be enriching for young people. But McKeon said college admissions officers would be more impressed by conferences held by actual universities or by a well-known organization such as Model United Nations.

My advice? Save your cash, kids, and crack open the books.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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