Short of time and cash, FCC delays regulations to trim cable TV rates Price cuts postponed until after Oct. 1

June 12, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Cable television customers will have to wait a few more months for the government to impose $1 billion in price reductions because the Federal Communications Commission needs more time and money to tackle its own regulations.

The FCC had planned to impose new cable rate regulations June 21 that were expected to produce price rollbacks nationwide. But the commission announced yesterday that it would have to delay the rollbacks until after Oct. 1 because Congress had yet to appropriate $12 million for more computers, office space and 240 new lawyers, accountants and other staff to deal with an expected avalanche of paperwork.

In a rare case when government bureaucrats find themselves overwhelmed by their own regulations, the FCC's acting chairman said he also sympathized with pleas from cable companies about the need for more time.

"The only people who needed the extension more than the cable companies were the commission," said the acting chairman, James H. Quello.

"I know consumers expect their rates to go down," he added. "But the small cable companies in particular said they didn't have the facilities and personnel to interpret the law."

The FCC action came just two days after all the commissioners attended the National Cable Television Association convention in San Francisco, where they were besieged by complaints about the complexity of the 450 pages of rules.

Yesterday, consumer advocates denounced the three-month delay, saying that customers would lose hundreds of millions of dollars in savings.

"Everything paid between now and when the regulations go into effect will be lost," said Bradley Stillman, legislative counsel at the Consumer Federation of America. "They promised consumers about $1 billion in rate reductions, but now they're closing off the opportunity to collect those savings."

Under yesterday's action, a price freeze that the FCC imposed on cable systems April 1 would be extended through Nov. 15. But two separate rollbacks that could have trimmed 15 percent off many customers' bills this summer would be delayed until after Oct. 1.

One of the rollbacks would have revoked price increases that many cable systems imposed between last fall, when the cable law was passed, and April 1, when the new regulations were adopted.

The other rollback would cut an additional 10 percent off the prices charged by about two-thirds of cable systems for all services except pay-per-view and premium channels, like HBO, that are sold individually.

The new rate regulations allow local governments to regulate cable prices based on a set of benchmark prices prepared by the FCC.

But the rules threaten to bury the agency in paperwork. No fewer than 33,000 local franchising authorities must be certified by the FCC to regulate rates. Individual customers and citizens' groups could also petition for additional rate reductions.

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