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Cable Firm Overcharges, Council Says : Television: Century is ordered to rebate 10 1/2 months of premiums to 20,000 customers. It has not decided whether to appeal.


Call it technical difficulties.

On Tuesday night, Century Cable viewers expecting to watch the Santa Monica City Council saw blank screens. The breakdown, due to a wiring problem, came on a night when the cable company was expecting bad news.

Several hours into the meeting, the cable came back on just in time to air the City Council's unanimous ruling that the cable company has been overcharging its 20,000 local customers by almost $4 a month. It ordered the company to rebate 10 1/2 months' worth of premiums.

The company was also ordered to refund overcharges on installation fees and justify the way it calculates its delinquent charges. Century has until Friday to come up with a refund plan and to respond to the council action. The rebate covers the period from Sept. 1, 1993, to July 15, 1994.

Century Cable spokesman Alan Niederman said the company is working on a response and has not decided whether to appeal the decision to the Federal Communications Commission. He called the timing of the cable service malfunction "unfortunate."

No Century official spoke at the hearing. On the same night, several Century Cable executives were at a Beverly Hills City Council meeting, at which service complaints were expected to be aired.

The Beverly Hills hearing was postponed until the fall and Santa Monica officials also promised to deal with the service issue, as the city renegotiates its contract with Century Cable.

Santa Monica's action against the company follows similar rulings taken earlier this year by West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

In Santa Monica, city officials said Century Cable had tried to circumvent federal rules by repackaging their channel selection, so they could charge more to keep the same programming.

The newly created package, called Century Select, forced customers to pay about $8 more a month for a group of channels, including Bravo and CNN Headline News, that had previously been part of the basic service package.

City officials do not have authority to prevent Century Cable from charging for the new package.

Santa Monica residents now pay $22.14 a month for basic cable. City officials figured it should cost $18.20.

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