City cable subscribers may see bills rise a bit

June 15, 1994|By Joel Obermayer | Joel Obermayer,Sun Staff Writer

Responding to FCC orders to cut cable rates, United Artists Cable of Baltimore announced its new fees yesterday -- and many city customers will see a slight increase in their monthly bills.

While the fee for many installation charges and other one-time fees will be cut almost in half, fees for several popular monthly services are on the rise.

For example, a Baltimore cable subscriber who has the company's basic cable channels service, its popular "Plus Service" (which includes specialty networks like ESPN and Atlanta-based WTBS), a converter box and a remote control will see their monthly bill go from $23.65 to $24.17. While the fee for basic service is being cut by $2.12, to $7.88, that reduction is offset by higher fees for "Plus Service," the converter box and the remote control.

The costs of movie channels and other premium services, which are not regulated by the FCC, will not change, according to United.

The rate changes are in response to a Federal Communications Commission ruling earlier this year that forces cable companies nationwide to roll back their fees by 7 percent, on top of a mandatory 10 percent cut in rates last year.

But rates for basic cable are on the rise, industry officials say, because for years cable companies have been keeping those rates artificially low by charging more for one-time installation and service charges. James H. Ewalt, executive vice president of the Cable Telecommunications Association, said the new FCC rules will force cable companies to justify what they charge for regulated services according to their expenses on a service-by-service basis.

"We think our rates have been fair all along," Mr. Ewalt said.

This year's ruling was the second time the FCC has forced cable companies to change the way they charge for services in as many years.

"We've been following all the FCC's formulas, that's why cable prices have changed so frequently," said Marilyn Harris-Davis, t tTC spokeswoman for United Artists Cable. United Artists Cable, which is owned by Tele-Communications Inc., is the sole cable-provider in Baltimore and serves about 100,000 homes.

Cable companies nationwide must inform their customers this week about rate changes that must be in place by July 15.

In Baltimore, United Artists is slashing rates on many services. The price of the company's most basic package of channels will decrease 21 percent, to $7.88 a month. The cost of initial cable installation will be cut almost in half, to $14.47 for prewired homes and $28.94 for unwired homes, and the fee for relocating an outlet will fall from $28.01 to $14.47.

Michael Ruger, an official with the cable services bureau of the FCC, said the nationwide rate changes were the end of a process that began when Congress decided to regulate the cable industry two years ago. Since that time, cable rates have gone down when adjusted for inflation, he said.

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