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Simi Council Seeks FCC Rules for Cable Firm : Television: The city backs off from plans to set rate and service guidelines. The company has come out with new charges.

September 01, 1993|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Backing away from an earlier bid to set up local controls over cable television service, the Simi Valley City Council moved Tuesday to impose federal regulations on the city's only cable television company.

Council members said two weeks ago that they would consider setting up local rate and service guidelines with Comcast in place of Federal Communications Commission regulations.

But the council rejected this idea Tuesday after Comcast abruptly changed its rates and services, effective today. In addition, city staff members and a cable television consultant warned the council that the local agreement with Comcast might violate federal law.

"I really don't think we have a choice," Councilwoman Barbara Williamson said.

Councilman Bill Davis said he felt misled by Comcast because the company failed to notify the city about its rate and service changes.

"My vote will be to go to FCC certification and do what we can to protect the general public," Davis said.

In an Aug. 6 letter, Comcast asked Simi Valley leaders not to join other Ventura County cities in applying to the FCC for the power to regulate basic cable rates and services in their city.

Instead, Comcast asked the city to negotiate a local agreement governing cable operations.

The company argued that a local pact, outside the rigid FCC guidelines, could provide prices and services tailored solely to Simi Valley. Comcast also said it would be easier to upgrade equipment and offer more channels under a local agreement.

At their Aug. 16 meeting, council members said they would prefer local control over cable operations. But they said Comcast must freeze its rates and services while the agreement was being negotiated.

City officials later learned, however, that Comcast planned to change its rates and program packages as of today. At Tuesday's special meeting, the council voted 4 to 0 to ask the FCC for regulatory power and to spend $3,000 to hire a cable television consultant. Councilwoman Sandi Webb was absent.

The city can obtain regulatory power 30 days after it applies. If the city does not obtain this power by Nov. 15, the cable company can escape any oversight by federal or local authorities, city staff members warned.

Effective today, Comcast eliminated a 13-channel basic cable package that provided local television stations, city meetings and educational programming, all for $10.95 per month. It also ended a discount rate for senior citizens.

However, the company also expanded the number of channels and lowered the monthly fee for extended basic service, which includes networks such as CNN and MTV.

Subscribers formerly paid $23.99 per month for 34 channels. Beginning today, they will pay $22.39 for 40 channels. For an extra 38 cents per month, they can receive three more cable channels: TNT, WTBS and The Family Channel.

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