The two cable television systems with monopolies on service in Baltimore and Baltimore County have announced rate increases effective in January and February.
Subscribers to Baltimore County's Comcast Cablevision will see their rates increase on Jan. 1 by as much as 10 percent, according to a letter sent to cable subscribers this week with their monthly bills.
According to the letter, signed by Comcast area vice president Stephen A. Burch, the rate for Preferred Basic Service, which offers about 40 channels, will rise from $20.90 to $22.99 a month. Bills will continue to include an additional 5 percent to cover a franchise fee levied by the county government.
The letter noted that some senior citizens can qualify, on the basis of income, for discounts on Preferred Basic Services. Seniors whose income is $10,000 or less a year qualify for a 30 percent discount; those with incomes of $10,000 to $13,000 may receive a 20 percent discount; income of $13,000 to $17,000 allows a 15 percent discount.
The discounts will not apply to Limited Basic service, which includes 18 channels and remains at $7.95 a month. Comcast charges $49.95 to change to Limited Basic, and a $25 deposit on a special converter.
Subscribers to United Artists Cable of Baltimore, which holds the city cable franchise, were informed in a note with the November bill that rates will increase Feb. 1 by 5 percent "to reflect the 5 percent franchise fee we have been paying to the city of Baltimore."
"This increase will appear as a new line item on your monthly statement labeled franchise fee," it said.
However, the director of the city's cable television office at City Hall criticized United Artists Cable for suggesting to customers that the increase was due to the long-standing city franchise fee that the company is required to pay "for the privilege of constructing their system in the city right of way."
"We think it's misleading to the consumer," said Joyce Jefferson Daniels, the city cable office director, noting that United had told the city government its increase was due to higher operating and programming costs.
Ms. Daniels praised the company, however, for applying the increase uniformly to each service purchased by subscribers and thus minimizing the impact on many consumers.
United's monthly rate for its basic-plus service will rise from $18 to $18.90.