City cable passes regulated buck, but, in end, only to itself


The TV Repairman (Special Edition):

Surely, it had to be good news, the envelope fairly screamed it.

"Important Subscriber Information Inside," it informed.

"Please Open Immediately!" it instructed.

Oh, boy, the long-promised drop in the monthly subscription fee ordered by the feds is at hand. Quick, call the travel agent and let him know you're going for the luxury package on that trip to Monte Carlo.

Imagine the shock, upset, surprise, disgust, revulsion (pick two) upon learning United Artists Cable of Baltimore is laying a bunch of new rates on us. You have two seconds to determine in which direction said rates are heading.

Naturally, UAB apologizes "for any confusion caused by [new] government regulations [that's right, blame it on the feds]. We are doing everything we can to minimize any inconvenience."

Feel better?

Far be it from The Repairman to spoil the moment. Recall what the basic service charge has been for the last several months? Well, rejoice, it's staying at the same: $10.

Only trouble is, in the "new order," basic service now consists of marketplace (12), public access (42), the '90s Channel (43), Baltimore City (44), electronic program guide (55) and assorted other pot holes to be avoided at all cost.

Anything you've been watching on the cable that isn't a premium channel or an over-the-air station readily available via commercial television, ESPN, TBS, CNN, USA, Lifetime, Arts & Entertainment, MTV, Discovery, AMC, etc., have now all been switched to plus service.

How all-inclusive is the plus service now? Roughly equivalent to the size of the Roman Empire before Commodus got his hands on the scepter. So all encompassing is it that the Weather Channel (53), CNBC (52), a couple of the home shopping channels and even C-Span I and II have fallen in the blitzkrieg.

Shortly, your bill for plus service won't be $9.25, but $11.48. That's a nearly 25 percent hike we're being subjected to and the cable folks can't blame this atrocity on Bill Clinton, either, because he has been out of touch up on Martha's Vineyard.

In addition to the rate increases, some installation and repair charges are going up, the often faulty equipment you rent and put up with will increase and the fee for "delinquent" payment takes its customary semi-annual leap of $1 (to $5).

Parentheses are placed around delinquent because, under the UAB payment system, all subscribers pre-pay by a month. A late payment of, say, 15 days by the cable company's definition is actually 15 days early or prior to delivery of services. Think of all the interest UAB accrues under this questionable arrangement.

Official Notice No. 2 the monopoly at 2525 Kirk Ave. is announcing is that "because of government regulation" (there rTC they go again), it is changing the channel lineup. Just when you had the old one committed to memory, too.

ESPN moves from 4 to 8 to make room for Channel 45 while Lifetime lays claim to 45 and CNN loses 14 to Channel 54 with 54 now being taken over by WWOR. HBO surrenders 22 to Maryland Public TV, moving to 27, which will never be heard from again, just like the Family Channel.

If you have any problem fathoming this, just call the monopoly at 2525 Kirk Ave., and after about 300 busy signals, you won't even care.

Official Notice No. 3 UAB lays on us, also "because of government regulation," we are informed that as of Oct. 6, network affiliates Channel 2 (NBC), 11 (CBS) and 13 (ABC) may be disappearing from its lineup.

The cable needs the consent of these stations to run its programming. And since many broadcasters have demanded payment in return for this retransmission consent (imagine), the monopoly at 2525 Kirk Ave. may be forced to go without since it "refuses to pay extra [?] for TV others may receive for free."

In the event the local channels don't make it back on United Artists, at the very least, city subscribers are assured "high-quality programming will replace the stations at no extra charge.

"For additional information," the cable company concludes, "please call us day or night and we'll be happy to help you."

Or place you on hold.

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