Most Subscribers See Little Change in Cable Service : Television: But 10,000 Ventura viewers lose Fox programming as talks fail.


After weeks of threats that cable customers could lose major network television programming, most Ventura County residents woke up Wednesday morning to find that little had changed.

But the 10,000 subscribers of Avenue Cable in Ventura will find substantial changes in programming.

The company has refused to accept a six-month extension offered by Fox Broadcasting, so subscribers will lose their Fox programming, including "The Simpsons," "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Married With Children," Avenue Cable spokeswoman Pam Drake said.

"We're still hoping to work something out," Drake said. "But right now negotiations are stalled."

Avenue also has not reached agreements with KABC (Channel 7) or KCBS (Channel 2). The company did reach agreements with the ABC affiliate in Santa Barbara and the CBS affiliate in Santa Maria, Drake said. So viewers will lose only a few Los Angeles news shows and the "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune" game shows, Drake said.

Local cable companies and the networks have been wrestling for months to meet Tuesday's midnight deadline to comply with new federal cable laws, which allow networks for the first time to charge cable companies for the right to carry their programs.

The threat of thousands of Ventura cable customers losing Channel 4 passed early Wednesday morning as cable companies and the NBC network made last-minute deals to continue programming.

Negotiations with Century Cable, which serves half of Ventura, were particularly contentious, with NBC and the cable company trading barbs over the airwaves.

But by Wednesday, all of the major cable companies in Ventura County--except for Avenue--had reached agreements with the major networks and Fox.

Larry Jones, a president of FX, Fox's cable station, said Fox has worked out deals or extensions with 99% of the cable companies it airs on and that he was puzzled by Avenue Cable's refusal to accept his company's offer.

"We've offered them six more months for free and they've turned us down," Jones said. "Right now there's nothing else we can do. We can't say to them something different than we've said to everyone else in the country."

But Drake said Avenue is holding out for a permanent agreement that would allow the cable company to continue carrying Fox without charge.

"They are interested in granting extensions or place a charge on us," Drake said. "We are a small, family-run business and we can't afford those options."

Meanwhile, hoping to pool city resources to more efficiently regulate the county's cable companies, the Thousand Oaks City Council has proposed formation of a regional Cable Consortium.

New federal cable laws allow local governments to review cable rates and monitor customer service, but many cities in Ventura County have said they could not afford individually to regulate their cable companies.

Camarillo and Ventura have already agreed to join the consortium, while Fillmore and Simi Valley have said they would prefer to regulate their cable companies on their own. The county's other five cities and Agoura Hills and Westlake Village are considering the proposal.

If enough cities approve the consortium and agree to split consultants' fees, the group would hire attorney Tracy Westen to advise it.

Westen, a Los Angeles cable consultant who specializes in communications law, told the Thousand Oaks council Tuesday that the cities in the consortium could collectively demand to see the cable companies' books.

Under the new cable laws, rate changes are supposed to benefit subscribers, and cities have the right to inspect earnings and expenses to make sure local cable companies do not profit from rate changes.

"You'll be able to see all the information you ever want to see," Westen said. "The question of what a fair charge is will be an issue the cities will have to grapple with."

Times staff writer Stephanie Simon contributed to this story.

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