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Cable charges ahead

AT&T Broadband's ringing in higher rates

Just in time for the holidays, cable rates are on the rise.

The Comcast-owned AT&T Broadband led the charge with a ballsy 8% increase in its Massachusetts franchises.

Move came only two weeks after the FCC approved the Comcast/AT&T merger, insisting that while rates probably wouldn’t go down, they certainly weren’t likely to go up.

Comcast proper is hiking fees in the FCC’s own backyard. Subs in Washington, D.C., will pay an average of 3.5% more in December, following a 5% increase earlier this year.

In Boston, AT&T’s cable system cited an 18% increase in its own programming costs, particularly for sports, for the rise. Decision is one of several in a renewed wave of price hikes designed to counter slowing sub growth and rising program costs.

Cablers raked over coals

In a statement last week, Consumers Union — publisher of Consumer Reports — chided cable operators for what it claims has become an annual holiday tradition of rate hikes.

Consumers Union noted that in past weeks, no fewer than five U.S. cable operators have announced price hikes for the New Year. These include AT&T Broadband, Time Warner Cable (6% nationwide), Cox (7% in Baton Rouge, La.), Cablevision (5.26% in the New York metro area) and Comcast.

CU noted that since the 1996 Telecom Act opened up the deregulatory flood gates, cable rates nationally have rocketed up 45%, while 95% of U.S. homes still have only a single cable operator to choose from.

Cablevision said its increase reflects higher programming costs as well as increased investment in customer service and network improvements to enhance system reliability.

The cabler simultaneously announced that it was reshuffling its program offering with a standardized pricing scheme and channel lineups across the company’s consumer base. “In most cases,” Cablevision said in a statement, “customers will receive additional networks.”

Depending upon a customer’s specific location, new additions may include the Travel Channel, Game Show Network, Speed Network, MTV2, Mun2, Animal Planet and Soap Net.

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