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Cable TV Firms Raise Rates in Disputed Move

Times Staff Writer

San Diego’s two largest television cable companies, caught in the middle of a constitutional battle between the City of San Diego and the State of California, officially announced Thursday that they will increase their fees to subscribers.

Although the city contends that the California Constitution gives it the power to regulate cable companies, cable firms say that a state statute allows them to raise their rates without the city’s permission.

“They say they’re not making as much money as they think they should,” said John Witt, San Diego city attorney. “They have decided under the authority of existing state legislation that they don’t have to ask the city for the authority to increase their rates. The city says otherwise.”

Cox Cable recently mailed notices to its 255,000 customers in San Diego, notifying them that their rates will increase an average of 11.7% on June 1--a monthly charge of $14.95 compared to the current $11.78 for basic cable service.

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In a similar move, officials for Southwestern Cable announced that basic service rates will increase by 11%. As of June 1, Southwestern’s subscribers will be charged $12.95, compared to the current $11.63 charged to 80% of the company’s subscribers.

Robert McRann, Cox vice president and general manager, said rising costs are forcing the cable companies to raise their rates. McRann said basic service programming fees have increased $2 million. In addition, it costs more to attach cables to utility poles owned by San Diego Gas & Electric and Pacific Bell, he said, and Cox has recently spent $13 million to buy and install decoding equipment designed to prevent illegal hookups.

Tom Rackerby, Southwestern’s president, said his company’s rate increase was also caused by increasing hookup fees, rising costs of current programming and added costs of expanding the company’s service.

According to McRann, the rate changes will decrease customers’ fees for some cable services. For example, services such as Home Box Office or Showtime will decrease by $1.

Cox officials based their rate change on Section 53066.1 of the California Government Code, which they said states the following: “a California cable company shall be exempt from a city’s rate regulation of basic cable television service upon meeting certain performance standards.”

Witt said the California Constitution overrides that statute. “Statutes can’t change the Constitution . . . which provides that under our ‘home rule powers’ we can control the use of our streets, and that we can regulate special commercial uses in the streets such as the laying of cable lines,” he said.

The Superior Court is due to decide the issue on May 6.

Besides San Diego, Cox serves La Mesa, El Cajon, Lemon Grove, Poway, Santee, Chula Vista, National City, Imperial Beach and other areas of the county.

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Southwestern serves 88,000 customers in the area north of Interstate 8 and north along I-15 to Rancho Bernardo, extending westward to Del Mar Heights and south to Mission Beach.


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