The 1992 Cable TV Act, intended by Congress to reduce cable television rates, has left area cable television subscribers generally confused and angered by changes in services and rates, judging from dozens of responses telephoned to SUNDIAL, The Sun's information service.
The majority of callers responding last Thursday and Friday to a request for comments expressed concerns about rate changes, service deficiencies and uncertainty about what broadcast stations may continue to be carried on cable systems.
Cable companies were required to tell subscribers last week about the status of "retransmission consent" agreements required by the act. Currently, the majority of Baltimore and Washington broadcast outlets, including many network affiliates and independent stations, have not agreed to let their signals be carried on many cable systems after Oct. 6. Here is a sampling of reader responses:
"To pay United Cable [of Baltimore] back, I got rid of their services. I already had a satellite dish, I'm paying $105 a year for the services I now receive and I'm very happy. The $800 [annually for cable] can go for my children's education."
--Eugene Warren, Baltimore
"These cable companies are in cahoots. They can be charged with running monopolies because they are running monopolies. How can they justify increasing rates when they refuse to pay the three major networks any money . . . yet they want to charge money to the subscribers and raise rates? . . . I'd also like to know how Baltimore City can justify fees such as franchise fee, pay-per-view tax, converter fees. It's becoming a joke.
"I can't wait until the day satellites truly become cheaper and people refuse to buy cable."
dTC --Henry Chin, Baltimore
"Are these the same people that are going to regulate health care for us at a better rate, as a better way to do things? I think it shows just how inept our political system and our members of Congress are."
--Jerry Kelly, Reisterstown
"This is the biggest rip-off since the Brinks robbery. Comcast [Baltimore County] mounts yearly campaigns accusing the general public of stealing cable TV. They're the ones that ought to be investigated for customer fraud."
--Morty Marcus, Pikesville
"I don't see much change personally for myself and cable fees. But if they drop the broadcast channels, I will probably drop cable. If I've got an antenna out, I might as well. I primarily watch the network channels; the rest of it is just amusement as I kind of graze the channels at night. If I can't get the channels that I want, I don't need the service. No manufacturer would anticipate or expect to get the major component of his product for free. I don't see why the cable companies shouldn't have to pay for getting the fees from the local channels."
--Colleen McCloskey, Catonsville
"Instead of bugging the cable companies, I think we should be getting furious with our legislators who drafted the bill in the first place and then allowed the FCC to interpret it the way they have.
"My feeling for the cable companies is that they are interpreting the law to take full advantage of a profit-making situation, which is what all of us do when we file our income taxes. . . . I think it's a disgrace that all this goes into effect and the only way we have found out about it is through ads they have been placed in local papers and the article in the Sunpapers."
--John Ray, Hillendale
"As a resident of Baltimore City [and] United Artists Cable subscriber, I'm very pleased. My bill went down 10 percent."
--Frank Sica, Baltimore
"I'm upset with the fact that the rates did go up. Secondly, I don't think the service is there that we had. . . . Also, it's not %% treated as a utility, just a service to my house. Why should I have to pay these ludicrous rates because I'm committed to get cable? Secondly, why in Harford County do I have to pay $18 a month for Home Team Sports whereas it's $1 a month in Anne Arundel County?"
--Mike Ferracci, Bel Air
"My question is, who is being greedy? The cable company or these local stations? They are depriving us of being able to [get] the signal, and those of us who have taken our outside antennas down must now put them back up again."
--Paul Dziwulski, Bel Air
"United Artists Cable [Baltimore City] is a horrible cable company. You get horrible service, they won't return your calls, you never can speak to the upper management of personnel, only the customer service personnel."
--James Thomas, Baltimore
"I have just received notice that my total reduction will be 39 cents per month. . . . I think this is just a real gimmick by Comcast [Baltimore County] to outmaneuver or out-talk the FCC. The only real relief we're going to get is when we're able to select our own company. We need competition."
--George Lacock, White Marsh
"My cable bill has gone up, my basic plus has gone down, but they raised the price of the premium channel, so overall my costs have gone up. Plus, they've increased the cost if you want to change service. For instance, if I want to cancel HBO, now it's going to be a higher cost to me, probably, because instead of a flat fee of $9.95, it's $33.60 per hour if they need to send a truck out, so overall I'm disgusted with the whole thing."
--Joanne Ruckowitz, Eastwood
"I'm not real happy with the cable increases. I think the FCC just bungled it all up and I just can't wait to see, if they did this much for us with cable rates, what are they going to do for us with health care?"
--Edwin Scott, Abingdon