Why TV in Howard Costs More HOWARD COUNTY

April 13, 1993

For proof that competition keeps businesses lean, imaginative and responsive to customers, Howard countians should note the running skirmish between a pair of cable TV companies in neighboring Anne Arundel County.

North Arundel Cable Television and Jones Intercable vie for some 40,000 households there. If you weren't aware that this is one of the few areas where cable providers square off, you might have guessed from the 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). In contrast, the highest per-channel costs are paid by customers of Comcast Cablevision outlets in Harford County (70 cents for each expanded basic channel), Baltimore County (67 cents) and Howard County (65 cents).

Mid-Atlantic, the cable system serving western Howard County, charges another of the highest local rates (55 cents per basic channel). Worse yet, Mid-Atlantic is long overdue in its vow to provide service to 73 west county neighborhoods.

The company missed not only the original 1988 deadline but also two extensions. It now wants a third extension. There's no way Mid-Atlantic would be so slow to wire those 73 neighborhoods if a rival cable firm were around to do the job.

When companies fight over the same turf, consumers aren't the only ones to profit. 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 61 percent.

These days, the cable industry finds itself on the verge of a revolutionary era, marked by hundreds of channels and two-way TV communication. Phone 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 operators.

Companies that understand the necessity of adapting to change and staying competitive -- as North Arundel and Jones Intercable have been forced to do -- should have a head start on potential rivals.

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