Comcast Cablevision increasing rates again Users will be paying 10% more a month for full standard service

Home entertainment

September 14, 1996|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,SUN STAFF

Comcast Cablevision is raising its rates for the second time this year, with a 10.6 percent boost in standard service that the company blamed mostly on the cost of adding new channels to its programming lineup.

The increase will take effect Nov. 1 and will raise the price of Comcast's full standard service to $30.22 a month from $27.33 in areas where Comcast has installed its upgraded fiber-optic based system, said Jaye Gamble, area vice president for Comcast's Maryland operations.

The increase will affect all of Baltimore County and most of Harford and Howard counties.

In areas still served by copper-wire based cable, the rate will climb to $29.03 from $26.31, a 10.3 percent jump. The price of Comcast's limited basic service, which about 5 percent of consumers choose, will rise to $8.25 a month from $7.56.

"Prices are definitely part of the changes we are making, but more importantly, we are adding channels," Gamble said. "We are significantly increasing the value of the service our customers receive."

Most of the new channels will be added to areas where the fiber upgrade is complete. But Comcast will add the MSNBC all-news network, now available only in fiber-upgraded areas, to all of its 300,000 local customers' menus.

In Baltimore County, the new fiber-based channels include the Animal Planet channel, which focuses on pets, nature and wildlife, and the Starz movie channel.

In addition, three formerly premium channels -- the Golf Channel, Speedvision (which concentrates on auto racing, boating and aviation) and Classic Sports Network -- will become part of the standard lineup. Two religious channels and the Spanish-language Univision network, which have been showing on Comcast only part of the time, will become available full-time in Baltimore and Howard counties.

The programming changes will vary slightly by county.

Gamble said the price increase covers inflation and the cost of new programming. He said the $100 million fiber optic upgrade was not a factor because those costs are reflected in the slightly higher rates already in place for fiber-based service. He said the company last raised local cable rates in February.

Comcast is not the only carrier that has been raising prices. The city's cable provider, TCI Communications of Baltimore, raised its rates June 1.

Experts said other cable companies nationwide have been raising rates gradually, even though most forms of telecommunications are getting cheaper and even though cable being targeted by an increasingly aggressive array of satellite television companies offering cable-like programming and cutting the cost of satellite dishes below $200.

"It gives the DBS [direct broadcast satellite] guys a great opportunity," said Gary Arlen, a consultant at Arlen Communications Inc. in Bethesda.

"The idea was for the phone companies to be the competition that the cable companies would fend off, but it has worked out very differently."

Peter Krasilovsky, a senior analyst at Arlen Communications, blamed the nationwide rate increases on programming costs, deferred price increases that were held back after the 1992 federal law regulating cable prices, and the heavy debt loads that most cable companies carry from building and buying their networks of local cable systems.

"There's nothing nefarious going on," he said. "There's inflation there just because of the incredible turnover of systems. Comcast, like everybody else, paid a lot of money to develop its huge network of franchises."

Pub Date: 9/14/96

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