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Comcast will lower cable rates


Comcast Cable will reduce monthly charges for some services by 5 percent to 7 percent for its 250,000 subscribers in Baltimore, Howard and Harford counties this month.

The reduction, which takes effect Thursday, is a response to the 1992 Cable Act and subsequent action by the Federal Communications Commission to lower cable rates.

The FCC is mandating reductions in areas where there is little or no competition.

"Almost every Comcast customer will see a rate decrease," Comcast spokesman David Nevins said. The average subscriber will pay $1 to $2 less a month, he said.

United Artists Cable, which serves about 100,000 customers in Baltimore City, announced similar reductions last month.

On Tuesday, the Baltimore County Council adopted legislation that gives its telecommunications advisory panel the power to regulate basic cable rates. The legislation requires that the panel of seven private citizens review Comcast's rate filings and schedule a public hearing on any rate request.

"We have a limited ability to control cable fees," said Lenny Sacks, chairman of the panel. "We can only control basic cable. The real control will be effective competition."

Comcast will reduce its basic service charge from $7.66 a month to $7.08, its full standard service from $23.76 to $22.12. The standard service includes channels such as TNT, TBS, WOR, Cable News Network, and ESPN sports. Charges for most other Comcast services will remain virtually unchanged, although rates for some premium channels, such as Home Team Sports, will increase by $1.

Looming over Comcast and United is an announcement by Bell Atlantic last month that it has applied to the FCC for permission to compete with Comcast and United Artists in the cable business.

The Philadelphia-based phone company has released some details of a plan to offer "video dial tone" service to about 300,000 homes Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County. Video dial tone service is an FCC term that applies to phone company applications, but it essentially means cable service.

Dave Pacholczyk, a Bell Atlantic spokesman, said the company hopes to have FCC approval to enter the Baltimore area by the end of the summer.

"We could then begin some service as early as next May," he said. Bell Atlantic phone service covers most of the mid-Atlantic area from New Jersey to Virginia, most of West Virginia, and part of Western Pennsylvania.

Mr. Pacholczyk said Bell Atlantic received permission from the FCC on Wednesday to begin cable operations in Dover Township, N.J.

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