Basic cable rates rising in Baltimore

November 20, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Cable TV subscribers in Baltimore will pay more for their CNN and MTV starting Jan. 1.

One month after Congress passed a law that promised rate relief for cable TV subscribers, United Artists Cable of Baltimore announced it is raising rates by 4 percent to 7 percent, effective Jan. 1.

The fee for basic service will rise from $17.35 to $18 a month, and the fee for expanded basic will go from $18 to $19.25, Euan F. D. Fannell, president and general manager of the Baltimore cable system, said yesterday. Mr. Fannell also said that the late fee for those who do not pay their bills on time will be increased from $4 to $5 at the start of the year.

Mr. Fannell said the rate increase was not tied to the Cable TV Act -- which won't affect rates until April 5 -- but was a case of simply passing on increased costs to customers.

"This rate increase basically reflects increased programming costs from our traditional satellite services [such as ESPN, USA Network, CNN and MTV] and operating expenses," Mr. Fannell said.

But cable TV analysts said there is at least an indirect connection between passage of the bill and the rate increase. "This looks like it is cable TV . . . getting what it can before it can't," said Dr. Douglas Gomery, who teaches cable TV in the Journalism School of the University of Maryland at College Park.

As Dr. Gomery and others see it, United Artists in Baltimore is raising rates Jan. 1 to get them to a higher level before the new Federal Communications Commission rate regulations under the act go into effect on April 5. The new law gives the FCC authority to regulate rates on basic and expanded basic services -- and those are the only two rates increased by United Artists.

Although Dr. Gomery and other industry watchers predicted that passage of the act could result in such rate increases, the consensus was that, once in effect, the regulations would result in some relief for subscribers.

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