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Cablers lose in court: Time’s up

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday denied a last-ditch request by the cable industry to delay rate regulations that take effect today.

The decision means cablers have exhausted their efforts to block Federal Communications Commission rules designed to roll back cable rates more than $ 1 billion nationwide.

The FCC estimates rates on average will fall by 10% or more as a result of its new rules. The price reductions will likely be seen by early 1994, but the amount will vary widely from system to system, and cable operators claim that in some locales, rates may actually increase.

House telecommunications subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said Tuesday he plans to hold hearings on FCC implementation of the rate regulation rules when Congress returns from its August recess.

Markey, claiming to be concerned over reports that some cable operators plan to raise rates, said rate hikes “would be at odds”with the 1992 Cable Act. “Nobody’s cable bill should be going up, unless they get more services,” Markey said.

Markey also expressed anger over press accounts suggesting that cable operators are bullying local municipalities into giving up their prerogative to regulate cable rates. (Under the new law, cities must be certified by the FCC to handle rate regulation.)

The Massachusetts rep said consumers “now have the upper hand, and they should write their local governing authority and the FCC to make sure their cable operator is abiding by the new rules. Some cable operators will continue to price gouge if they are not watched closely,” Markey said.

The FCC originally planned June 21 as the effective date of cable rate regulation. The agency then pushed the date back to Oct. 1 after claiming it had inadequate staffing to implement the rules. Under pressure from Congress, the FCC settled on today.

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