TCI memo irks FCC, Congress

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission attacked TCI Tuesday for a memo telling system managers to charge consumers more and blame the government.

Tele-Communications Inc. issued a statement later saying it had lowered rates for 80% of its customers and did not blame the government for increases in unregulated services.

FCC chairman James Quello said, however, that the memo “typifies the attitude of cable companies engaging in creative pricing and rate increases to evade the intent of Congress and the FCC.”

The memo from TCI official Barry Marshall to system managers said that under government regulation, TCI could no longer “simply adjust our economics” and would have to “take the revenue from the source that we can, when we can,” and new revenue sources would be “charges for upgrades, downgrades, customer-caused service calls, VCR hookups, etc.”

The FCC has been investigating pricing changes by the 25 largest cable companies in the nation and is expected to release its findings later this month.

After the TCI memo became public, Quello said the FCC is investigating which price increases are legal.

“Thereis little doubt that the cable industry has an economic stake in discrediting the congressional act they vehemently and unsuccessfully opposed,” he said. “It may be necessary for the FCC to initiate action or recommend legislation to close loopholes and correct unintended consequences.”

Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), chairman of the Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, said he would support strengthening the law, if the FCC can’t close the loopholes in its regulations.

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