Charter, Small Op Scrap in W. Va.11/21/2001 5:04 AM Eastern
The West Virginia Public Service Commission will hold a hearing to determine
if the discounts offered by Charter Communications Inc. to attract customers
away from a competitor in Parkersburg constitute discriminatory pricing.
The hearing is the result of a complaint filed almost one year ago by that
competitor, Community Antenna Service Inc., a 4,500-subscriber cable system.
That company competes head-to-head with Charter for about 2,700 of those
homes, according to office manager Lisa Wilkinson.
CAS operated unmolested for about 20 years outside the city limits of
Parkersburg. But when it was awarded a franchise to enter the city to compete,
Charter began offering customers superdiscounted packages.
Offers included $9.95 per month for six months for all of Charter's video
offerings, including pay services, Wilkinson said. Other discounts were tied to
CAS alleged that the discounts are discriminatory under state law, as they
are not offered to city residents where Charter is the sole provider.
'We just want a level playing field,' Wilkinson said.
But Charter officials said the PSC proceeding was launched in retaliation for
the civil suit the MSO filed against CAS one year ago.
The suit, filed in Wood County Circuit Court, challenged exclusivity
agreements CAS signed with multiple-dwelling units.
The competitor got the agreements by offering free cable service in return
for the 'landlord's or apartment manager's assistance in misrepresenting to
tenants that they have no right of choice' in cable providers, according to PSC
CAS also cut Charter plant, the MSO asserted in its civil suit.
That action violated the state's right-of-access statute, Charter vice
president and senior counsel Linda Reisner said.
CAS filed a counterclaim focused on predatory pricing. The lower court did
not grant Charter a judgment, and it is awaiting action by the state Supreme
Court of Appeals.
The West Virginia Division of Administrative Law Judges will conduct the
hearing. No date has been set yet, but the legal division must issue its
recommended decision to the PSC by May 7.