Why TV in Carroll Costs More CARROLL COUNTY

April 13, 1993

If Carroll countians needed proof that competition keeps cable television suppliers lean, imaginative and responsive to customers, they'd need look no farther than the running skirmish between cable companies in Anne Arundel County.

North Arundel Cable Television and Jones Intercable vie for some 40,000 households in the northern half of that county. If you weren't aware that this is one of the few areas where cable providers square off, you might have guessed from the two companies' relatively low fees.

Subscribers of North Arundel pay a monthly bill of $22.15 for 46 channels on expanded basic service (48 cents per channel), while Jones Intercable subscribers pay $21.20 for 53 channels on expanded basic (40 cents).

By contrast, Carroll County customers pay $22.95 for 43 cable channels (53.5 cents a channel) if they are customers of Prestige Cable and $19.25 (53.5 cents a channel) for 36 channels if they happen to live in Manchester, which is served by Frederick Cablevision.

(Each Arundel outlet is even more of a bargain because its basic service includes the Disney Channel and Home Team Sports, premium channels that cost extra on both Carroll cable systems.)

Consumers aren't the only ones to profit when companies fight over the same turf. The companies benefit as well. North Arundel Cable Television estimates that 80 percent of the households in the "overbuilt" area have chosen to sign up for cable service. The subscription rate in non-competitive sections of the county is only 61 percent.

These days, the cable industry finds itself on the verge of a revolutionary era, when a TV viewer will be able to choose from among hundreds of channels and participate in two-way communications without leaving the comfort of the recliner. Telephone companies and other communications companies appear likely to get into the cable business and shake things up even further. One significant shift has already occurred with the Federal Communications Commission's recent decision to impose price controls on cable companies.

"Caveat operator" should be the industry's motto. The capacity to change will be paramount, the competition tough. Companies that understand this will have a head start on their rivals.

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