From rate increases to service complaints, there will be no shortage of potential topics at the annual public performance review hearing of Baltimore's cable company at 7: 30 p.m. tomorrow at City Hall.
For starters, there's TCI Communications of Baltimore's rate increases, set to take effect with next month's bills, which will add about $3 to the monthly bills of most subscribers.
Then there's the issue of late fees, the subject of a class-action lawsuit that began this week in Baltimore Circuit Court.
Finally, there's the finding earlier this year by the Mayor's Office of Cable and Communications that TCI violated its franchise by failing to provide timely hookups to several customers.
TCI's rate increases will raise the fees for its combined basic and expanded basic package by $2.56 a month, from $24.39 to $26.95.
That package, the most popular among TCI's 112,000 subscribers, includes over-the-air commercial and public stations such as Fox 45 and Maryland Public Television, as well as such channels as ESPN and CNN. It does not include premium offerings such as HBO and Cinemax.
Monthly charges for converter boxes will go up 33 cents, from $2.67 to $3, while rates for remote-control devices will rise 13 cents, from 17 cents to 30 cents. That will bring the total increase for most subscribers to $3.02 a month.
"The service rate adjustments reflect updated inflation, applicable franchise related costs and programming fees, among other factors," TCI said in a two-sentence "Notice of Rate Change" sent to city cable officials months ago. Efforts to reach company officials for elaboration yesterday were unsuccessful.
City cable officials say they will order an independent review of the rate increases.
If the audit finds the increases are unjustified, the city can appeal to the Federal Communications Commission. If the FCC agrees, it can order that some or all of the charges be rolled back.
Meanwhile, a Baltimore Circuit judge began hearing testimony Monday on a class-action suit charging that TCI's assessment of a $5-a-month fee for bills that are overdue is too high. The suit before Judge Gary I. Strausberg asks $7 million in damages on behalf of an estimated 25,000 customers who have had the charges assessed.
According to court documents, utilities typically charge late fees of 1 percent to 1.5 percent of the total bill, but one of two named plaintiffs in the suit had the $5 fee tacked on to a $31.23 cable tab.
The company says in court papers that the fees are justified by its expenses in collecting money owed.
The trial comes 3 1/2 months after TCI was notified by the city's cable office that it had violated the portion of its franchise agreement requiring the company to provide timely service to all residents.