Quello queasy over cable cuts

Interim FCC chairman James Quello said Thursday he opposes the idea of allowing cable TV customers to begin withholding 15% of the cost of their monthly bills.

“I don’t see where we could possibly have that kind of authority,” said Quello.

Quello’s remark came in response to a petition filed Wednesday by the Consumer Federation of America and other consumer groups. The orgs urged the FCC to immediately endorse a plan allowing consumers to knock off 15% of their cable bill.

The consumer groups based their request on the April decision by the FCC to begin rolling back cable rates by 10%-15% nationwide. The FCC originally settled on June 21 as the effective date for launching the rate rollbacks, but has since delayed the date to Sept. 1. Consumer groups maintain the delay will cost $ 200 million.

Under the consumer group proposal, cable customers would be permitted to deduct 15% of the cost of basic and expanded basic programming, but not premium and pay-per-view services. Under the 1992 Cable Act, premium and PPV prices are not regulated.

The National Cable Television Assn. dismissed the consumer group proposal as “silly.”

Court cools ‘Wireless’

The U.S. District Court in Las Vegas has blocked five companies from continuing the sale of “wireless” cable TV investment opportunities deemed deceptive by the Federal Trade Commission.

Wireless cable is a small but growing industry that involves the delivery of TV programming using microwave signals.

At the FTC’s behest, the Las Vegas court froze the assets of the five companies promoting wireless investment deals. According to the FTC, the companies “falsely represented that they were offering low-risk, high-return investments,” when consumers “are likely to lose all or part of their investments.”

The targets of the FTC probe include Spectrum Resources Group Ltd., Spectrum Resources Group Inc., Integrated Wireless Inc., and the officers of the firms: James Greenbaum, Charles Davis and Sid Rudich. The firms have offices in Las Vegas, Washington and Houston.

The FTC also charged Midas Media I Ltd. and Midas Media Inc., which maintain offices in Las Vegas and Houston, and director Jeff Jolcover with participating in the alleged scam.

Greenbaum and Davis were defendants in a similar case in 1992, the FTC said.

The new FTC complaint alleged defendants marketed their investments for $ 7, 500 to $ 20,000 by falsely claiming they owned or had the lease rights to wireless cable licenses in Texas and Nebraska.

Cabler’s caution

Cable TV subscribers will be “utterly confused and upset” in coming weeks as the full effects of the 1992 Cable Act become known, Encore Media Corp. chairman John Sie predicted Thursday.

Sie, speaking before the Washington Metropolitan Cable Club, said that instead of a 10% drop in prices, many cable customers will face reshuffled program lineups that could result in higher prices and loss of broadcast stations due to retransmission consent.

Sie predicted a “major upheaval” due to passage of “the most draconian law … ever imposed on private industry.”

Sie complained that it is “unfortunate and ironic that as the rest of the world is moving to democracy, cable TV is being socialized and bureaucratized.”

NCTA’s prexy search

The search committee charged with finding a replacement for National Cable Television Assn. prez James Mooney met for the first time here this week.

The chairman of the panel, Newhouse Broadcasting Corp. prexy Bob Miron, said the search is in the “early stages” and will proceed “with all due deliberate speed. All we’ve done is receive names. There have been no interviews.”

Mooney resigned his NCTA post July 1 after nine years.

Valenti goes to GATT

Motion Picture Assn. of America chief Jack Valenti wings to Brussels and Geneva this weekend on a trade mission for the U.S. film biz.

Valenti will be meeting with top exex of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and with European Community officials. The MPAA head said he hopes “to return with an accurate measure of the progress of negotiations for a new global trade pact.”

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