Word of hikes in effect for 2009 was included among billing statements sent to customers this month, which involve increases in both basic and standard cable service.
Basic cable, a 13-channel package mainly including broadcast stations in the area, has jumped from $10.35 to $12 per month.
The new monthly charge for standard service, which contains basic service and 59 channels in all, is $57.75. The cost had been $54.45.
Price hikes have hit local cable television subscribers at least eight times since January 2000. For example, the Standard Package cost $31.14 then, and the expense is now nearly double that based on the latest increase.
That nine-year time frame includes service from Time Warner Cable and an earlier provider, Adelphia, which was acquired by Time Warner and another company, Comcast, in July 2006.
Increases also have occurred this month among entertainment packages offered by Time Warner. The cost of Digital Access has risen from $59.95 to $62.95, with the charge for DIGIPiC 1000 going from $69.95 to $71.95.
Those packages include the standard channels as well as equipment to receive digital television and music services and other features including access to pay-per-view programming.
A representative of Time Warner Cable said Wednesday that the latest increases reflect higher costs for certain networks offered on the system, as well as infrastructure investments.
“Our number one expense is programming costs,” said Melissa Buscher, a spokeswoman for Time Warner Cable in Raleigh, who added that this is a constant issue with sports and other networks. She cited a recent “public dispute” between Time Warner Cable and Viacom Inc. over fee hikes that almost led to a blackout of 19 Viacom cable channels, including TV Land, Comedy Central and MTV.
A deal was reached in late December which averted the blackout.
“We do everything we can to keep down those programming costs,” Buscher said.
However, she said that Time Warner also has sought to provide more services to customers, pointing to the addition of 15 high-definition channels during 2008 as an example. Buscher mentioned that the company invested $50 million last year to upgrade service and expand offerings.
“So we are offering more products to our customers,” she said.
No channels are to be added in the near future to either the standard or basic service packages, based on company literature.
Contracts Offer Savings
One way in which the company has sought to limit costs for consumers in a tough economic time was the addition of a contracting plan in mid-2008. It permits any Time Warner customer to lock into rates for a two-year period. This allows the company to maintain subscribers on a long-term basis while offering them savings.
“Customers can save about 10 percent per year,” Buscher said.
She said this arrangement has proven popular, but might not be for everyone. “Some customers like the idea of knowing what their bill is going to be,” the Time Warner representative said. “But we understand that not everyone likes the idea of a contract.”
City Discusses Issue
The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners received word of the latest price increases during a meeting in late December.
City Manager Don Brookshire told the board that he had received notification of the new rate structure and pointed to the fact that local residents would be informed about it in their January bills.
This produced a comment from Commissioner Todd Harris, who wondered aloud what would be involved if the city of Mount Airy decided to operate a cable television service. At the same time, Harris cautioned a reporter not to take his proposal too seriously.
Morganton is the only city in North Carolina that has its own cable TV system, based on discussion at the meeting. Morganton offers cable programming to 90 percent of that city’s residents.
But that came about only after a six-year court battle to determine if North Carolina law allowed Morganton to run its own cable operation. The case went all the way to the state Supreme Court and federal courts, with the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to hear the matter, before Morganton finally could proceed with its plan.
Contact Tom Joyce at email@example.com, or at 719-1924.