Programming costs boosting cable rates

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A rate increase for cable television is the result of new and more expensive programming, particularly sporting events, a Charter Communications representative said Friday.

Recently added channels such as Tech TV and The History Channel are now part of the expanded cable package, increasing the variety of content. But the most significant price jumps are associated with increases in the costs for sports programming, said Marsha Berkbigler, Charter director of government affairs.

"When sports programming goes up in price, that's a direct pass-through to the customer," she said. "Whether its ESPN, ABC, NBC, CBS or FOX, when they negotiate to have specific programs -- such as NBC and CNBC with this year's Olympic games -- they charge us more to have that on the cable system."

In Carson City new prices will be effective Feb. 7. Basic service will continue to be offered at the base price of $11.36; expanded basic will go up $1 to $26.90; digital bronze will remain the same at $45.99; digital silver will go up $2 to $55.49; digital gold will go up $2 to 65.49 and digital platinum will go up $2 to $80.49.

The following channels will be added or have already been added to expanded basic service concurrent with the new rate structure: Travel, National Geographic, CMT, Tech TV, History, Speedvision, TV Land, Turner Classic Movies, Women's Entertainment and Bravo.

Digital cable subscribers will see some of the programming moved to different channels, and additional channels will be added to more expensive cable packages.

Berkbigler said the rate changes are not tied to Charter's acquisition of AT&T cable last summer. This is the first rate change since the transaction.

"The rates cannot be directly tied to an acquisition for the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission)," she said. "It's a very regulated business."

Charter has plans for another cable upgrade, possibly at the end of this year. Meanwhile, the company will start a new campaign to sell high-speed Internet, a service it has been offering all along, but was temporarily derailed by the bankruptcy of Excite@Home, which provided a home page for local cable Internet subscribers.

"We are going to be marketing our Pipeline service," Berkbigler said. "We were left in a situation where we had to build a parallel network under short notice."

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, a large stake holder in Charter Communications, funded Parallel as an Internet platform.

"You will see packages in the next month or so for both video and high-speed data," Berkbigler said.

The price structures have not yet been determined.


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