Senate mulls cable rates

Increases soar at five times inflation

WASHINGTON — Cable rates are continuing to soar at rates five times inflation, but Congress and the FCC still don’t have a handle on a way to curb the increases.

Regulators and legislators are growing increasingly concerned about rate hikes because cable regulations are set to expire on March 31, 1999. The regulations slated for sunset cover the programming tier which includes networks such as CNN, MTV and Discovery.

At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Thursday, the FCC’s top cable regulator, John Logan, said he hoped to issue a report on cable rates this summer that will be based on information recently requested from the nation’s top cable companies. The report will examine claims by cablers that rising programming fees are largely responsible for the rate increases.

Logan said the inquiry should not only reveal why programming costs have risen but will also take a look at other cable revenues such as advertising, commissions, and launch fees.

Some members of Congress, including Rep. Ed Markey (R-Mass.), have proposed rescinding the March, 1999, deadline for ending cable rate regulation.

But Thursday, Senate Communications Subcommittee chairman Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) said regulators should encourage competition, not more regulation.

Burns noted he was an original sponsor of a bill that would lower copyright fees for satcasters and thus make the service more competitive with cable.