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Your Money : Another ‘Deal of the Century’ on Cable

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“We have great news!” says the letter Century Cable sent to Los Angeles customers earlier this month. Charges for basic and full cable service are dropping $2.18 a month, the letter says. What’s more, it notes, customers will get more channels, including Comedy Central and the Learning Channel.

There’s more to it, of course. People who order premium service (HBO, Showtime, the Movie Channel, Cinemax or the Disney Channel) now need a special converter to receive those channels. Monthly fees for the converter, which sits atop the TV set, are $3.99.

Century Cable General Manager Manuel Martinez said the converter is needed because the company is changing the way it transmits cable signals. Before the rate changes, which go into effect July 15, people ordering premium service paid a onetime $6.85 fee to have a special transmission device installed outside their homes.

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The converter charges mean people with premium service will end up paying at least $47.88 more for the service each year.

Even with the reductions, all cable customers are paying more than they did a year ago. (Century Cable raised its rates last September.)

With the changes in monthly fees, basic cable customers will pay $21.07, 38% more than a year ago, and full-service customers will pay $27.37, 15.6% more than last year.

That’s bad news.

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Playing it safe: Parents who use a MasterCard to pay pediatric bills through Aug. 31 can send away for a free cassette and book on child safety from the credit card company. The video, “Making Your Home Safer for Children,” and book, “Child Proof Your Home,” offer tips on accident prevention.

“MasterCard wants you to play it safe,” the offer reads. Seems to us the credit card company is doing just that itself.

Accompanying the offer is what appears to be a lawsuit-prevention tip: “MasterCard International is not responsible for any accidents or injury resulting from use of the information presented in the videotape, book or booklet.”

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Phone fee: Marriott is the latest hotel chain to remove the long-distance access fee for guests who use calling cards.

As of July 1, it will eliminate the 75-cent fee at 140 of 200 Marriott Hotels, Resorts and Suites nationwide. A spokesman said it is expected that about 60 franchise hotels will drop the fee at a later date.

Many hotels instituted the fees over the last five years to raise revenue during a slump in hotel occupancy. The fees annoy business travelers, and hotels have been dropping them to attract customers.

Hilton, Hyatt and ITT Sheraton have eliminated the fees for at least some of their customers. Here’s a rundown of their policies.

* Hilton has dropped the charge, which ranged from 75 cents to $1, at 150 of its 220 hotels. A spokeswoman said some franchise hotels still charge them.

* Hyatt recently ended the 75-cent fee for its “business plan” rooms, about 5% of its 54,000 rooms in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. Those customers pay a $15 surcharge for their rooms but receive extra services, including a free breakfast and a fax machine in the room.

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* Sheraton in April removed the fee, which was 75 cents to $1, for guests on the “club floors” of 45 hotels. The company has more than 200 hotels nationwide. People staying in those rooms pay a $15 surcharge and get added services similar to those offered at Hyatt.

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Looking for the real Mr. Mom: “Hey, Mom, we’d like to hear from you,” says a survey form McDonald’s is attaching to Happy Meals, its meal for children.

The survey asks mothers to rate the Happy Meal food and toy prize and to state how often they take the children to McDonald’s. At the end of the survey, McDonald’s asks Mom for her name and address.

The survey says the information is needed because “from time to time, McDonald’s may have special information or offers just for moms.” Before she fills in her name, Mom is asked to check one of four boxes: Ms., Mrs., Miss, Mr.

Looks as if we need to have a talk with Ronald McDonald.

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Charges settled: Sears, Roebuck & Co., Montgomery Ward & Co. and four R.H. Macy subsidiaries--including Bullock’s--on Thursday settled federal charges that they failed to make warranty agreements available to customers before certain items were purchased.

The Federal Trade Commission alleged that the retailers violated a 1976 rule requiring them to make the warranties available on items over $15 by either displaying the information near the product or informing customers, through signs in various locations throughout the store, that warranties are available on request.

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In the settlement, none of the retailers admitted any guilt. They agreed to instruct their staffs to follow the law.

Representatives of Sears and Macy said the FTC had uncovered isolated instances of warranties not being available.

“Warranties are a big selling point at Sears,” spokesman Bob McHenry said. “Typically, the salesperson explains the warranty to customers.”

A representative of Montgomery Ward could not be reached for comment.

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