Angry television viewers in Pacific View Estates have threatened to campaign against the renewal of Falcon Cable TV's franchise unless the company lowers its rates.
Susan Herman, general manager of the city Department of Telecommunications, told homeowners at a public meeting Tuesday that they had little recourse because of a federal law that went into effect this month deregulating cable TV rates.
Residents of Pacific View have no TV without cable because the Santa Monica Mountains block reception.
"Cable companies can charge whatever they want whether it's warranted or not," Herman said. "The industry enjoys the privilege of being a de facto monopoly."
Falcon agreed to meet with representatives from the Pacific View Estates Homeowners Assn. and the city telecommunications department before its franchise expires May 7.
On Jan. 1, the company raised its rates for basic service from about $6 a month to $12.50 and lowered the number of channels from 22 to 18. Residents had been paying the $6 fee since about 1969.
"I feel the cost is outrageous," said Art Newman, a resident of the nearby community of Sunset Mesa, which is also affected by the rate increase. "No one is denying them a profit, but this is ridiculous."
"For the last 15 to 20 years, you haven't had a fee increase," countered Tim Wilt, general manager of the Falcon's Malibu system that serves about 550 subscribers in Sunset Mesa and Pacific View Estates. "Meanwhile, the consumer price index has risen 100% to 130%."
Other Rate Hikes
The two communities are near the J. Paul Getty Museum where the meeting was held.
Several other cable companies have raised their rates since deregulation went into effect, said Dave Talcott, deputy chief of the telecommunications department.
Sammons Communication Inc., which offers 24 channels on its basic service to Fillmore residents, raised its $9.66 monthly rate by $1. Copley Colony Harbor Cablevision Inc., which offers 60 channels as a basic service to Wilmington residents, now charges $14.44 a month, an increase of $2.
Wilt said after Falcon bought Telesystems Company in November, 1985, the company began to replace the 18-year-old cable system and to charge for rental of a optional remote control device. He said Falcon had to raise rates to pay for the cost of replacing the system.
"When we took over the system, it wasn't in compliance with FCC rules," Wilt said. "Not only that, but the guy who owned it probably wasn't paying for some of the stations he was getting. We're too big to get away with that, and we have to pass on the cost to our customers."
Ron Salmons, a retired salesman who has lived in Pacific View for 18 years, complained that Falcon charges too much for the remote control device. Subscribers pay about $5 a month.
"I figure it's worth about $60," Salmons said. "That means if I live here another 18 years, I will pay for it 18 times over."
Subscribers also complained of poor service, with dozens of people contending that Falcon's phone lines were constantly busy and that messages were unanswered.
"I paid the full fee for 2 1/2 months without getting consistent service," said Edward Tabash, an Sunset Mesa attorney who said he is considering a lawsuit against Falcon.
"If they give me and the others in the same position a rebate or credit, then we don't have a case," Tabash continued. "But it puts a question in my mind about their sincerity when they say we have to contact them, and we can't get through."
Wilt said all customers would be hooked up to the new system by the end of the month, which he said would end service problems. He said Falcon plans to hire at least one more customer service representative to handle complaints.
Herman of the telecommunications department said the city still has the power to regulate customer service. She recommended that subscribers write to her describing their complaints.
Falcon has a separate franchise from the county for the Sunset Mesa area, which does not expire until 1997, Herman said.
Sunset Mesa residents said they are not going to let that stop them. Newman said the residents would boycott the cable company if necessary.
"We've fought bigger outfits than yours--ask the owner of this building," said Salmons, referring to problems residents had in the early 1970s with the Getty Museum. The museum changed its hours and parking policy as a result of the homeowners' complaints about traffic congestion.
"So you better take us seriously," Salmons said.