Cable rates going up next month

Published 6:00 am Thursday, February 5, 2004

Cable One television customers will be paying higher ratesbeginning in March, but officials point out the increase is thefirst in two years for the company.

Cable One sent customers notices in late January that the basiccable package, including channels 2-65, would be increasing from$37.50 a month to $39.50 in March, said Bobby McCool, generalmanager overseeing operations in Brookhaven, McComb and Natchez.Premium programming packages will rise $1-$2 a month, with digitalbundled services rising $4 to $5 a month, excluding sales tax andfranchise fees.

While acknowledging that higher rates are not popular withcustomers, McCool pointed out that Cable One was the only cablecompany that did not raise rates last year.

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“Our company thought this was the right thing to do with allthat was going on,” said McCool, mentioning the war on terrorismand the sluggish economy.

McCool said rates for other cable television companies in thestate are in the $45-$50 a month range. He also touted Cable One’schannel lineup options.

“If you look at it on a channel-by-channel basis and compareapples with apples, you’ll see our rates are lower,” McCoolsaid.

For customers wanting limited service, McCool said hasintroduced a Lifeline package for $17.95 a month and digitalLifeline package for $27.95 a month. The Lifeline package includesbroadcast networks plus WGN, PBS and UPN, while the digital packageprovides access to 45 music channels, pay-per-view access and 22digital networks.

“It’s more choices for our customers,” McCool said. “We havesome very good options.”

McCool said the options represent a departure from the way cabletelevision companies operated in the past.

“In the old days, it was one choice, one price, take it or leaveit,” McCool said. “It’s not that way anymore.”

The reason for the increase, McCool said, is higher programmingcosts to carry networks. He mentioned that ESPN had raised itsrates 149 percent over the past five years.

The costs present companies with the difficult choice of keepingthe channels and paying the higher costs or dropping the popularchannels.

“It’s what our customers want to watch,” McCool said.

McCool also cited higher costs associated with providing digitaltelevision signals, which many stations now use.

Brookhaven aldermen briefly discussed the rate increase duringTuesday’s board meeting.

McCool said cable television had been deregulated and reasonablerate increases are allowed by the Federal CommunicationsCommission. He said the city does not have authority overrates.

City Attorney Joe Fernald agreed.

“They’re allowed to raise rates in order to reflect increasedcosts,” said Fernald, adding that a letter to the board andcustomers justified the increase.

Fernald mentioned that cable television companies are facingincreased competition from satellite television providers.

McCool said his company is seeing customers trying the satelliteservice, but some are also switching back to Cable One.

“They have advantages over us, and we have advantages overthem,” McCool said.

McCool said satellites have added local Mississippi programming,but Cable One also can provide access to Louisiana networks. Hesaid the company is working on a digital signal from WBRZ in BatonRouge, which would improve reception.

McCool said Cable One supports local events and charities andpays a franchise fee to the city. Satellite providers do not, hesaid.

“We feel like we’re a part of the community,” McCool said.