Basic cable television rates for about 40,000 residents in Oxnard and Port Hueneme will be reduced by about $1 a month, announced the area's cable provider, Jones Intercable Inc.
The action, which company officials say is a response to recent changes in federal rules, comes days before Oxnard's Telecommunications Task Force is scheduled to present the city with a evaluation of Jones' services.
After an eight-month review, the task force criticized the performance of Jones Intercable last April, saying the company had broken its promise to create community programming and modernize technology to broadcast city events.
Jones' 15-year franchise agreement to provide cable service to Oxnard is nearing its end, and the company will probably face stiff competition from other cable firms when it tries to renew the deal in 1997, city officials said.
The cable provider could soon also face a new adversary: GTE Corp. The Stamford, Conn.-based company announced in May that it plans to build a fiber-optic network to provide 83,000 households in Ventura County with video programming through the telephone. Other county cable companies that would face competition from GTE--their first competition ever--include Comcast Cable and Ventura County Cable.
Jones on Wednesday announced that its limited basic service of 25 channels, including ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, has been reduced from $13.89 to $12.72 per month. The company's Tier I upgrade, which adds C-Span, The Weather Channel, VH-1, ESPN and other channels, has been reduced from $6.11 to $5.91. However, its Tier II upgrade, which adds CNN, MTV, the Discovery Channel and others, has been raised to $7.01 from $6.67.
Federal Communications Commission officials revised some of the industry pricing regulations in the Cable Act of 1992 last February after the original attempt to cut cable rates backfired, leading to increases for millions of subscribers.
Arthur Joe Lopez, chairman of Oxnard's Telecommunications Task Force, said Jones' decision to reduce prices was driven by possible competition as much as the FCC regulations.
"I'm sure the FCC regulations were a factor, but it's surely a business decision as much as anything else," Lopez said.
Steve Naber, Jones' business manager, rejected that claim.
"Once the competition comes in, the rate structure will change," Naber said. "Right now, it is illegal for GTE to do that. We don't know what will happen if and when they enter the market."
GTE has yet to receive federal approval for the new service, which could start as early as next March.
The task force, whose members include Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez, City Clerk Daniel Martinez, and City Atty. Gary Gillig, will present City Manager Tom Frutchey with its report Tuesday.
Lopez and other task force members have criticized Jones Intercable for failing to hire a full-time employee to coordinate local community access programming, as was written in the contract; charging for video workshops when the original agreement says they are to be free; and failing to upgrade the cameras and video equipment in the City Council chambers since 1982, which according to Lopez subjects city resident to shoddy telecasts.
Naber said the company and the city interpret their 1982 agreement differently:
"We're not necessarily a programmer, we're a conduit. That's not the cable company's role."
Jones' prices are comparable with the rates of other local cable providers. Century Cable of Ventura charges $26.95 for what it calls its basic package of 29 channels, which includes MTV, VH-1, C-Span and ESPN. Avenue Cable of Ventura charges $16 for its limited basic service, which includes TNT, KABC, and WTBS among its 21 channels. Officials from both companies said their rates were unaffected by the FCC revisions.
Jones Intercable of Oxnard is a subsidiary of the Englewood, Colorado-based Jones International, Ltd. It is the seventh-largest cable television provider in the United States with more than 1.3 million customers.