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Cable Revisions Are Receiving Poor Reception : Entertainment: For some subscribers, new law means not only changes in channel lineup but also increases in their bills.


COSTA MESA — Sue Shapiro hasn't received her revised cable bill yet, but as near as she can figure, it will go up by $1 to $5 a month.

The bill will be triple what she was paying just eight years ago for basic cable--no premium channels. For service that cost just $9 a month in the mid-1980s, Shapiro said, she now expects to be billed as much as $32.50, and "I think that's an awful lot of money."

She won't cancel the service, but the higher rate does add insult to injury, she said, given that her cable service has never been what she would have liked in the first place. For example, she and her husband have to take their remote control to the office of Copley-Colony Cablevision when they need a battery replaced; a standard size will not fit.

Poor service and ever-increasing bills are what the federal Cable Act of 1992 is supposed to fix. The billing portion of the law went into effect last week, on Sept. 1.

The law was intended to lower cable companies' income--and, therefore, customers' bills--by 10%. But the way cable companies have put the law into effect, it will end up increasing bills for about a third of the customers who have the most basic cable service.

As cable companies are revising customer bills, they are also taking the opportunity to revise channel lineups and add some local broadcast stations, as required by law.

"It will probably take me six months to catch up with it and get used to it," said Peggy Chapin, a Fullerton resident and Comcast Cablevision customer. "It does not make a whole lot of sense. C-SPAN is way out in the 40s. I would prefer it down where the major networks are."

Chapin said she received an insert in her newspaper to notify her about channel changes.

Others are complaining that their newspaper TV listings have not yet caught up with the changes and that the printed channel numbers are not correct.

"I don't know if the kids have figured out where MTV is or not," said Robert Grable of San Clemente, a Dimension Cable Service customer.

Grable's neighborhood receives broadcast stations from both Los Angeles and San Diego--so residents get national programs such as network news on two channels at once. Grable says he is not bothered by that as long as there is still room on the dial for other programs.

Less complacent cable customers have wondered aloud why they cannot receive premium stations such as the Sci-Fi Channel, Black Entertainment Television, the Nashville Network or the Cartoon Channel.

Comcast in Fullerton has been receiving customer phone calls at a rate of 19,000 a week since the changes, compared to 9,000 during a typical week, said Dave Barford, vice president and general manager. Comcast, he said, is not changing its bills until October. (However, they will be retroactive to Sept. 1.)

Customers are calling about channel changes and a mailer that describes new packages of services available, Barford said.

"They aren't complaints" for the most part, he said. "There's a lot of confusion, a lot of questions about how it all works."

Some callers want help reprogramming their VCRs and cable-ready sets, said Donald Granger, regional vice president and general manager of MultiVision Cable in Anaheim. Some have not received their bills yet and want to know whether they will be paying more or less.

Others are calling in for new equipment, Granger said, after noticing a drop in prices for remote controls (from $4.50 a month to 30 cents) and additional converter boxes (from $5 a month to 45 cents).

Complaints about cable service are certainly not confined to Orange County, where 520,000 homes subscribe.

Mission Viejo cartoonist Kevin Fagan, who creates "Drabble" for United Features Syndicate, said people respond every time he pokes fun at cable.

"Last time, I got a call from a distant relative" in another part of the country, he said. "It's a pretty universal complaint."

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