Howard Cable to raise rates for basic service

December 03, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Howard Cable Television will increase rates for basic service by 5 percent Jan. 1 and for the first time will charge customers for its programming guide.

The company will raise its basic service charge, which includes 40 channels, by $1.15 monthly, from $22.25 to $23.40. The guide will cost 99 cents a month for customers who choose to subscribe. Customers who get the premium movie channel, Home Box Office, will pay 3 percent more beginning next month, from $12.95 to $13.35.

The company serves about 43,000 subscribers in the Ellicott City, Columbia, Laurel, Savage and Elkridge areas.

David Nevins, a company spokesman, said the average customer will see about a 3 percent increase in the overall bill, since many subscribe to more than just basic service. He emphasized that the increase is the company's smallest in recent memory.

"I think the majority of our customers will be pleased with the small size of the increase," he said, adding that the average increase will be about the same as the Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation. "The company bent over backward to keep the rate increase to a minimum."

From 1989 to 1993, Howard Cable Television has increased its rate for basic service from $15.95, a 46.7 percent increase. Increases for the three-year period from 1990 through 1992 averaged 11.7 percent.

But members of Alliance for Better Cable say they are disturbed by the increases. The group charges that the company has been unresponsive to customers' demands for improved programming and better service while continually increasing rates.

"I'm outraged," said Columbia resident Marty Cann, who canceled HBO. "It's only a 2 or 3 percent raise now, but it will go up again. It just gets to be too much."

ABC member Richard Kirchner called the increase "unjustified," saying the company didn't provide an explanation for raising rates.

"With an unregulated utility, nobody checks to see whether increases are warranted," said Mr. Kirchner, a Columbia resident.

The rate increases are necessary to keep pace with the costs of doing business, Mr. Nevins said. The technological and construction costs of maintaining and upgrading the cable system keep rising, particularly in a rapidly growing county like Howard where new roads and housing developments are being built, he said.

Also, companies that supply cable programming services have raised their prices, making it more expensive for a cable operator to carry popular channels, he said.

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