WASHINGTON — Stirred by complaints and confusion over new cable television price regulations, federal regulators are preparing to rewrite the rules to bring prices down for the nation's 57 million cable households, sources said Monday.
The Federal Communications Commission is actively reviewing its price structure, which it announced in April, and will disclose a series of changes at its next public meeting in mid-February.
Although FCC staff members are still debating details, agency officials said Monday that the changes are likely to have a sweeping effect on what all cable customers pay each month.
Cable customers have just been through one set of sweeping changes--in September, when the FCC implemented the 1992 cable act that reimposed rate controls on the industry.
In many cases, charges for hardware such as remote controls did go down, but these savings were often offset by a rise in basic programming rates.
The FCC's review of its regulations is a tacit acknowledgment that its first set of regulations failed to bring about the widespread relief from rising cable prices the agency predicted last year, and which Congress had expected from its cable law. Lawmakers, consumers and cable companies criticized the regulations last fall, suggesting that the FCC left loopholes permitting cable operators to raise some rates.
In a preliminary survey of 14 major cable companies this fall, the FCC itself found that 31% of subscribers received a higher monthly bill while 68% saw their bills drop after the new rules took effect.
"If we do it right, prices in all of the markets where cable companies have (monopoly) power ought to go down," said Blair Levin, chief of staff to FCC Chairman Reed Hundt.