Mayors Applaud Tipping Fee Decision, Heckle Cable Firm

Not Enough Cable Competition, Town Leaders Say

April 14, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

CARROLL'S MAYORS WANT THEIR MTV — and their HBO, Home Team Sports and the rest of the cable televisionline-up.

Only they want it cheaper than they're getting it from Prestige Cablevision, Carroll's dominant cable company.

During their quarterly meeting with the County Commissioners lastweek, some of Carroll's municipal leaders complained about what theysee as excessive monthly rates, inadequate service and Prestige's careless attitude.

"We can see the result of a system without competition," said Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown. "We don't have competition with cable TV. How do we get a fair break for the county?"

Georgia-based Prestige Cablevision was granted a franchise to serve Carroll County in 1983. It initially charged $7.50 a month late that year. A price hike in March boosted its current monthly rate to $20.50, a 173 percent increase in about seven years.

Complaints of highcable television rates are nothing new.But, the mayors said, with legislation pending in Congress that could lead to more regulation and more players in the industry, they wanted to let the County Commissioners know that they aren't satisfied with the way things are now.

"I view increases with some alarm," said Sykesville Mayor Lloyd R. Helt Jr. "I know that telephone companies are dying to hook up and compete with the cable companies. I say, let them compete with Prestige."

Although Prestige claims the lion's share of cable customers in the county -- the only other company in the county is Frederick Cablevision, which operates cable television in Manchester -- its franchisedoes not have to be an exclusive one.

"We don't have an exclusivefranchise," said William Bethune, manager of Prestige's Carroll operations. "I say, let someone come on in."

Someone who wants to comeon in, however, faces an expensive, time-consuming proposition -- building a cable company is a multimillion dollar proposition.

The mayors said they were advocating competition or more governmental regulation because they believe there needs to be a check on the cable company.

"Congress is at least listening now," said County Attorney Charles W. "Chuck" Thompson Jr. "There is legislation that would openup cable TV to phone company lines, and that would give local governments more control over cable companies."

Prestige's Bethune said that much of the consternation over higher rates could stem from a misunderstanding of the kinds of costs a cable company faces.

"I know more about how to run a cable company than I know about running a county," he said. "I know what the money is used for; I know how much we need to keep up with what the customer wants. I don't know much about what the county spends its money on. They raise taxes, they increase what they charge."

The relationship between the towns and the cable company has been strained at times.For the last year, Prestige has been trying to get the towns to turn over some of their unused public access channels so that the company can expand its channel line-up. So far, only Mount Airy has agreed to turn over its channel, but even that deal met with the disapproval of the county's Cable Television Committee.

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