Cable TV rebates proposed

June 25, 1994|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Cable subscribers in Baltimore will receive one-time rebates or credits of at least $13 each under a proposal by the Mayor's Office of Cable & Communications.

The proposal, to be submitted before the Board of Estimates Wednesday, would compensate subscribers for overcharges by United Artists Cable from Sept. 1, 1993, through July 14, officials said.

The total amount of money refunded or credited to subscribers could be more than $1.3 million, they said, based on approximately 97,000 city cable subscribers.

If the proposal, called a rate order, is approved by the Board of Estimates, United Artists would have 15 days to come up with a plan to give back the money, officials said.

"The company has two options -- to give refunds or credits," said Joyce Jefferson Daniels, director of the city's cable office, which oversees United Artists' operation.

United Artists said yesterday that it was working to have its plan in place by Wednesday.

"We're aware of the fact that the overcharges did exist," said company spokeswoman Marilyn Harris-Davis. "We're trying to come up with the smoothest mechanism for refunding that money."

The proposal to be considered Wednesday is separate from the new fees announced by United Artists that will take effect July 14.

Those fees, based on FCC orders to cut cable rates, would halve many one-time installation fees and cut fees for basic cable service. But they would raise the fees for the company's popular "Plus Service," which includes CNN and ESPN, as well as charges for converter box and remote control devices, resulting in a slight overall monthly increase for many subscribers.

Ms. Daniels said her office would review those rates as well.

"Until we get through that process, I can't tell you if those rates are OK or not," she said.

The proposal for rebates and credits is the result of months of review and study of United Artists fees, based on a 1992 federal law designed to protect cable subscribers from unfair and unreasonable charges.

The review found that United Artists had been charging subscribers $2.82 more than the new FCC regulations allowed for its basic cable service received by each cable subscriber, Ms. Daniels said. That service includes the "over-the-air" commercial and public stations, such as WJZ and Maryland Public Television, and city cable and public access channels.

But the review also found that United Artists had charged subscribers $1.51 less than permitted for the converter box and remote control devices, Ms. Daniels said. That resulted in a net monthly overcharge for basic service subscribers with one outlet and a remote control unit of $1.31, she said.

Multiplied by the 10 months from September of last year through mid-July of this year, the result would be an overcharge of $13.10.

United Artists also was found to have overcharged subscribers for a number of one-time services, Ms. Daniels said. For example, the company had been charging $28.01 for installing additional cable connections -- $13.54 more than allowable under federal regulations.

But Ms. Daniels said she did not know how much money might be rebated or credited because of such charges because she was waiting for the company to determine how many people were charged.

"We really do not have those figures," she said.

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