Is somebody pulling my leg here?
They're not. The rate increases you are seeing are probably contract rate changes between popular stations and Buckeye Cable--some of the most likely culprits are ESPN and (here it comes) Fox News.
Back in the day, cable "stations" used to pay cable systems to carry the stations and then the stations would make the money back by selling ads. Now, the tables have flipped and a channel can CHARGE the cable operator for the privilege of carrying ESPN. They can get away with this because of the immense popularity of the channel (can you imagine the outcry if ESPN locally went dark because Buckeye said "we're not paying you more"?).
If I remember right, ESPN is still #1 on the per customer charge--something like $4-$5 of your cable bill goes to them. Other channels charge less or nothing at all--it all depends upon whether the channel has the popularity to get away with it. ESPN has it. And (sorry folks), based on sheer audience numbers, Fox has it too. Discovery's stations get less money per customer, but still charge.
Why not have a cable "a la carte" system--you pick which channels you want? It's been proposed many times, but the cable operators resist mightily because (a) it would be a huge billing pain-in-the-ass and (b) they can hide their own escalating fees within the context of the even bigger per-customer channel fees.
I'll try to find some sort of list of these per-channel fees in a bit--I don't know if one exists or if I have to dig up the individual articles from Broadcasting and Cable (trade mag). But I don't doubt what the customer service rep told you. The most popular cable channels are driving your rates more than the company itself. And yes, that means you get all the commercials AND pay for the privilege of doing so.