Bill targets cable rates


Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Jim McGovern on Tuesday introduced legislation meant to rein in rising cable rates.

"The unregulated cable TV industry has pushed cable rates up at almost three times the rate of inflation," Frank said in a statement. "The bill I am introducing today will give consumers a fighting chance against unfair cable increases."

The bill would return to the FCC authority to act upon consumer complaints about cable operators, which it lost in the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Cable rates have been rising in the districts Frank represents in Massachusetts. Some of those cost increases are attributed to the migration of New England Sports Network (NESN) from the premium to expanded-basic programming tier, although a spokesman for Frank said the introduction of Frank's bill wasn't necessarily connected to the recent rate increases.

NESN, which is co-owned by the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Bruins, formerly cost subscribers $9.95 per month to receive. Many cable subscribers in the Boston area subscribed to the channel, and were happy to see it move to expanded basic because the move lowered their cable bills. But many other subscribers who did not previously take NESN do not want to pay an extra $1.50 to $2 each month to subsidize the channel.

AT&T, Adelphia, Time Warner, Charter and Cox Communications all have affected systems, although only AT&T still is holding out on a deal, according to a May 9 story in the Boston Globe. Cable operators, particularly Charter CEO Jerry Kent, recently have been complaining bitterly that the rising costs of sports programming, particularly ESPN, are forcing up cable prices.
- Paige Albiniak