Charlotte Wants Competition


Charlotte, N.C. -- The "telecommunications competitor
wanted" sign may hang in the city following the completion of a staff report that
predicted lower rates, fewer tiers and more attentive service if the city solicits an
overbuild of Time Warner Cable.

The City Council mandated the study in response to rate
complaints by consumers. "They've increased regularly in the 11 years that I've been
here," cable-communications director Doris Boris said, "and people are looking
for added services."

Time Warner's latest rate increase added 4.9 percent to the
cost of its most popular package. The "standard" package (basic plus expanded
tiers) includes 58 channels and now costs $33.07 monthly. Time Warner serves 186,000
customers in the system.

The city plied 15 other cities for information on their
competitive telecommunications market, and 12 responded. Boris said Charlotte wanted data
from cities with a variety of technical and demographic factors, so that it could get a
true picture of the competitive market.

In all of the communities that responded, competition has
had a "positive effect on rates," Boris said. Costs are below the national
average, they have stabilized and competitors have carved out more desirable programming
packages, according to Charlotte's report.

For instance, incumbent operators have dropped extra-cost
tiers, or at least moved popular individual networks off tiers.

Further, in 11 of the 12 communities, officials reported
that service improved. That statistic also interested Charlotte.

Unlike other communities, Charlotte can't complain that
Time Warner lacks a presence in the community -- the MSO's regional office is there, in
addition to a local system office. But the company "has a lot of excuses for what
goes on," Boris said.

Other communities also reported that local companies
increased attention to system upgrades and to the provision of new services.