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Jones Intercable Will Cut Its Rates

Television: The company, which faces competition from GTE, has also added channels.

September 13, 1997|CHRIS CHI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OXNARD — Facing competition from telecommunications giant GTE, Jones Intercable has slashed rates and added channels for 35,000 Oxnard viewers.

The rate reductions are scheduled for Oct. 15 and will lower prices on a number of basic and premium channels. Viewers who receive a standard 52-channel package, for instance, will see monthly rates drop from $26.90 to $23.40.

Channels to be added include the History Channel, ESPN2 and the Sci-Fi Channel. About 5,000 customers in Port Hueneme will also see lower bills and new channels. Company officials said more details of the changes will be released in the next few days.

The move by Jones comes as GTE is completing its fiber-optic cable construction project in Oxnard, Ventura County's biggest city. It has already launched its americast service in parts of north Oxnard.

GTE's cable system has been available to viewers in Thousand Oaks and Camarillo for several months. The Irving, Texas-based company chose Ventura County as a launching point for its new cable service after federal telecommunications reform last year allowed telephone and cable companies to compete for viewers.

GTE's 16,000 subscribers in Ventura County pay $26.95 per month for a 62-channel package. Steve Naber, Jones' general manager, acknowledged Friday that his company has lost some Oxnard subscribers to GTE. By cutting rates, Jones hopes to encourage subscribers to stay.

"There's a perception that there's a new cable company coming into town and replacing us," said Naber, noting that cable companies also must compete with satellite television firms. "We're not going away, we're not being replaced, we're here to stay."

GTE spokesman Larry Cox responded to news of Jones' price cuts by touting high-tech GTE options, such as interactive shopping.

"They need to do what they need to do to compete," Cox said of GTE's Oxnard rival. "It's not our intention to get into a price war. We want to be the best provider with the best options for the customer."

Meanwhile, Jones remains entangled in a legal dispute with GTE and the city of Oxnard.

Jones sued both Oxnard and GTE in federal court this summer, alleging that Oxnard officials gave GTE Media Ventures a more favorable franchise agreement.

In the lawsuit, Jones contends that it spends thousands of dollars a year on public access television and other services to comply with its contract with Oxnard.

Those expenses have included buying $65,000 worth of equipment to tape Oxnard City Council meetings and providing free video training sessions to the public, according to the lawsuit. GTE's deal with Oxnard requires the company to contribute to public programming, but with fewer requirements and costs than Jones', the suit states. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for next month. Oxnard city management analyst Dennis Scala said negotiations with Jones to renew its franchise agreement--which expires Nov. 12--have been stalled since the lawsuit was filed.

Jones has not paid the city a $300,000 semiannual franchise fee that was due on Sept. 1, Scala said.

"Instead of them directing their money and energy toward suing us, I think it would have been better if they negotiated with the city," Scala said.

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