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W. Hollywood May Order Rate Cut for Cable TV

March 06, 1994|KEN ELLINGWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

West Hollywood cable television subscribers may soon get that long-awaited price cut.

Wielding powers granted by the new federal cable regulation law, the City Council on Monday is expected to order Century Cable to trim nearly $4 off the price of its basic service package, now $24.08 a month. The council also may order refunds to the city's 11,000 subscribers retroactive to when regulation began in September.

The action would be the city's first foray into regulating cable television rates, which skyrocketed after deregulation in 1986. The 1992 cable law gave municipalities the right to regulate the cost of the most basic level of cable television--local broadcast channels plus government and public-access channels.

Beverly Hills is also moving to roll back Century Cable rates before a March 17 deadline stipulated by the federal cable act. Santa Monica and Los Angeles officials are studying the rates in their cities.

Cable customers have expected lower cable bills since the law was passed over the veto of former President George Bush. But instead, many West Hollywood residents were outraged last year when Century Cable repackaged its channels in such a way that customers ended up paying about $8 more to watch the same programs.

City officials, who have jousted with the cable firm in the past, helped direct a flood of complaints to the Federal Communications Commission.

"We've probably received 600 letters and calls from people complaining," said Helen Goss, who oversees the city's cable television operations. "People in this community have passionate feelings about Century Cable."

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About half of the city's homes are wired for cable, which is about the only way to ensure a good television picture because nearby hills block over-the-air signals. Century also provides cable service in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and West Los Angeles.

Goss said the city expects upcoming federal rules to spell additional cuts and tighter control over the cost of "a la carte" packages, which include channels such as CNN and MTV that used to be part of basic service.

The proposed $3.72 West Hollywood rollback is based on a complicated federal formula using figures provided by the cable company. The city hired a cable specialist to analyze the financial data.

It is not known whether Century will fight the rollback. Company officials had sought to delay Monday's hearing because some executives planned to be out of the country, Goss said. But the city has to enact any reductions by March 18. Century officials could not be reached for comment.

Beverly Hills is considering a rollback of $1.68 and has filed a complaint with the FCC protesting the creation of the "a la carte" packages as an attempt to evade local regulation.

Before September, Century offered a 52-channel basic service--including CNN and other satellite channels--for $26.15. After repackaging, a customer had to pay $34.39 to keep those channels and get nine new ones offered in a new expanded package. A new bare-bones basic tier--containing mainly broadcast, government and public-access channels--was priced at $24.08.

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