Schmoke resisting cable TV rate rise He wants TCI to justify adding to 'basic' clients' bill


May 01, 1998|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday said he wants TCI Communications to justify a proposal to raise rates for cable service by as much as 40 percent for some customers.

TCI Communications of Baltimore plans to increase the cost of basic cable service from $8.02 per month to $11.22 -- a change that the cable company said would affect about 3,500 customers who get the company's 24-channel package.

Schmoke said the increase concerned him. "This is a significant rate increase for a level of service that has historically been intended to allow access for citizens to the most basic cable services, including local broadcast channels and various community programming," he said in a statement. "This new rate could put basic cable out of the reach of some of our citizens."

TCI said it will lower the expanded basic rate, from $18.93 to $17.71, which affects 90 percent of TCI's 113,000 customers in Baltimore.

Because those customers pay both rates to get 39 channels, their cumulative rates will increase from $26.95 to $28.93, or about 7.35 percent. Expanded basic service, the most popular among TCI subscribers, does not include premium offerings such as HBO and Cinemax.

"There's a combination of factors that always lead to rate increase -- investments in programming, maintenance, customer service and the cost of doing business," said Marvin Wamble, communications director for TCI Communications of Baltimore.

The increase comes two years after the passage of telecommunications reform legislation, intended in part to lower rates for consumers.

"I can't speak to the promise of the telecommunications reform bill," Wamble said. "We had promised to keep the rates down as much as possible, and that's still our goal. Our rates are in reasonable bounds.

"Even with this increase, our rates are below the national average for price per channel, and within [Federal Communications Commission] guidelines."

Wamble said TCI increased the price of the basic cable package to account for the transfer of two channels -- TBS and the Discovery Channel -- in 1996 from the expanded package to the basic package. "The value of the basic package has increased," he said.

The Mayor's Office of Cable and Communication said it is trying to determine whether the increases are allowed by FCC rules. In a statement, Schmoke encouraged residents to attend a public hearing to review the rates and TCI's performance Thursday at 6: 30 p.m. at the city's Department of Education headquarters at 200 E. North Ave.

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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