Don't look now, but cable television rates might be going up again. The culprit this time isn't the cable companies but another local monopoly -- Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.
The reason: BG&E plans to start charging cable companies a $6-a-pole annual fee this year to keep their lines on BG&E poles. The fee would affect cable companies that hang their lines on the 50,000 poles statewide that BG&E shares with Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co.
Rental fees on an additional 23,000 poles owned solely by BG&E probably will be raised to $6 from $4 as part of the rate change, said John Metzger, a BG&E spokesman. The company previously charged no fee for the poles it shares with C&P.
Although BG&E hasn't committed itself to the increase, it has informed at least one cable company -- Comcast Cablevision -- of its intention to raise its pole rental fees this year, Mr. Metzger said.
If instituted, the $6 fee will apply to all 20 cable companies that buy pole space from BG&E, he said.
Comcast, which operates in Baltimore County, and United Cable, which serves Baltimore, declined to comment on what effect, if any, the anticipated increase would have on cable rates.
But Tom Gorman, director of engineering for Comcast, said all cable companies have to consider their costs, including pole rental fees, when setting customer fees.
"If and when it came down to rate adjustments, it could be a factor," he said of the expected pole rental increase.
"It goes without saying that if pole-attachment rates increase, cable rates are going to go up," said People's Counsel John M. Glynn, who represents the interests of consumers before the Public Service Commission. "That's an obvious conclusion."
Mr. Glynn's office does not oversee cable television issues because the industry is not regulated in Maryland.
If BG&E goes through with its plan, cable companies will have to pay two fees for using shared poles -- $6 to BG&E and $3.15 to C&P, which will continue to charge a separate rental fee.
The Federal Communications Commission, the agency that oversees pole-attachment rates, said the average price paid by cable companies nationwide to hang their lines is $2 to $3 a pole. Some Maryland cable companies would pay $9.15 a pole to BG&E and C&P.
Mr. Metzger said the new charge meets the criteria set by the FCC, which limit the amount that utilities may charge cable companies for pole rentals. That limitation is set out in a mathematical formula that has been used for years by the utilities to set pole rental rates.
The formula was adopted in the early years of cable after cable companies complained that utilities were gouging them.