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N.Y. State Gets Serious On Cable

An investigation of the New York state cable industry that could take months was launched Jan. 23 by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester), chairman of the Assembly Committee on Oversight, Analysis & Investigation.

Brodsky, calling the cable industry an “unregulated monopoly,” said the committee would investigate a variety of issues, starting with industry compliance with the Cable Subscribers Protection Act of 1990, which he helped write.

The investigation will include a survey of consumers in regard to cable service, a review of the renewal franchise process, including what Brodsky termed the industry “clampdown” on public access channels, and a look at enforcement by the New York state Commission on Cable Television.

Among Brodsky’s accusations is that the industry charges excessive rates for inferior service. The assemblyman pointed to the tiering of basic services and cable companies requiring subs to use remote-control changers provided by the company as examples of abuses by cable companies.

Brodsky also mentioned “sub-basic” services as a problem. According to Brodsky, subscribers are now paying $30 to $50 per month for services that have not changed in years. He said he believes the added charges are going into corporate investments, not into improved services.

Brodsky said industry reps will be asked to meet with him informally and to cooperate in the investigation.

According to Richard Alteri, president of the Cable Television Assn. of New York, the association has “no idea what Mr. Brodsky is talking about, or what he’s going to be investigating. He has had no contact with our office. His accusations are broad, general and totally without merit.

“The cable industry,” he continued, “has invested millions of dollars in telephone equipment, customer service, training and meeting with the public, with one goal – better customer service…. The fact is, basic service averages $16 a month. It’s the best entertainment value in America. Bashers make statements and hold hearings without the facts.”

Meanwhile, New York state Senate Majority Leader Ralph J. Marino (R-Muttontown) has released a recommendation that the cable commission be absorbed into the Public Service Commission. Marino notes that New York is the only state with a separate regulatory agency for the cable industry. He argues that since the federal government deregulated the industry, the only remaining significant state jurisdiction is customer service and franchise renewal.

Per Marino, the PSC already has a well-organized consumer services division, which could “easily absorb the duties currently performed by the cable commission with respect to consumer issues.”

The PSC also regulates telecommunications companies in New York. One of the alternate federal proposals to reregulating cable companies is permitting telephone companies to compete in the provision of cable service. Marino’s legislation, if passed, could allow these companies greater access to the commissioners and staff that could potentially impact their future competitive position.

Gov. Mario Cuomo proposed a similar measure in his 1990 budget message, but no action was ever taken on the proposal. The governor will present his 1991 message by Feb. 1, and, according to gubernatorial spokeswoman Karen Polk, his position on this matter will be stated at that time.

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