Officials in Alexandria, Va., admitted that their hands
were tied after Jones Intercable Inc. said it would raise rates in its system there by
10.6 percent, beginning July 1.
As of last week, the Alexandria Citizen Assistance Office,
which oversees cable television in the community located across the Potomac River from
Washington, D.C., had fielded 70 consumer calls about the pending rate increase.
"At a system with almost 42,000 subscribers,
that's almost statistically insignificant," said CAO director Rose Boyd.
Nevertheless, Boyd said, one Jones subscriber had already
filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission concerning the rate hike.
MSO executives attributed the hefty rate hike to escalating
programming costs, as well as to the $40 million fiber optic upgrade that has transformed
the Alexandria system into the crown jewel in the company's portfolio.
Since the upgrade was completed last year, Jones has
increased its lineup from 56 channels to 78, introduced local telephone service to 3,000
multiple dwelling units and unveiled high-speed Internet-access service.
"If there's one place where a story can be told
about why a rate increase is necessary, Alexandria is the system," said Drew Shekler,
vice president for Jones' East Coast regional office.
Even with the latest increase, Shekler said, the
company's rates remain below the average price charged by other systems in the area,
which he estimated at about $32 per month.
In a letter to subscribers, Jones Communications of
Virginia said the price of its basic and expanded-basic package will jump to $30.88 per
month, an increase of $2.95.
Separately, the cost of limited basic programming, or the
broadcast tier, will rise to $12.63 per month, an increase of $1.25; while the
expanded-basic tier will increase by $1.70 to $18.25.
City officials have asked their municipal consultant to
review the increase, but they are aware that there is little that they can do to hold the
line on rates as long as the MSO's documentation is in order, Boyd said.
"It's a large increase. Whether it's
justified remains to be seen," she added.