Connecticut regulators want Marcus Cable Co. L.P. to refund
nearly $1 million to its subscribers because of alleged overcharges dating back almost
The state Department of Public Utility Control has found
that Marcus subscribers have been paying 35 cents per month more than the maximum
allowable rate for basic service since September 1993, when the systems were still owned
by Sammons Cable.
If approved, it would be the largest cable-related refund
ever ordered by the DPUC, potentially amounting to $20 for each of Marcus's 45,000
subscribers in the state.
DPUC officials said the extra fee -- which went to cover
public-access channels -- appeared on monthly bills as a separate line item, rather than
being incorporated into the overall basic rate.
"Under Connecticut law, you can't charge
something that we haven't approved," DPUC spokeswoman Beryl Lyons said.
Marcus officials argued that public-access channels are
required under its franchises. Those costs, MSO executives said, can be passed through to
subscribers under guidelines set by the Federal Communications Commission.
"We believe that we've taken the proper position
on this," said Richard Gleiner, Marcus' senior vice president and general
Moreover, in an earlier response to the DPUC investigation,
the MSO said the public-access fee was "a separate pass-through that Sammons did not
include in the calculation of its maximum permitted rate for basic service -- a practice
followed by Marcus."
In its ruling, however, the DPUC disagreed, arguing that
the Cable Television Consumer Protection Act of 1992 states that basic rates should
include the cost of satisfying PEG-access (public, educational and government) franchise
Therefore, the agency ruled, the act "does not
authorize an additional charge over and above the basic-service fee."
Meanwhile, the DPUC said, it will also seek a civil penalty
of $20,000 against Marcus for failing to report the extra charge in four separate tariffs
filed with the department since it acquired the Connecticut systems from Sammons in
By failing to report the extra fee, Marcus'
basic-cable rates were set on "false rate information," prompting the DPUC to
declare that it "will not allow Marcus to escape liability for overcharges as a
result of its false statements."
The refund order will become final if approved by a panel
of three DPUC commissioners hearing the case, Lyons said. It was not immediately clear
when the panel will act.
Marcus will then have to prove that it has stopped
collecting the public-access fee, and it must submit a refund plan to the agency. First,
however, it has 21 days from the time that the order is final to ask for a review of the
Gleiner said Marcus will make its next move once the
decision is final.
The action by the DPUC was the latest setback for the
Texas-based MSO, which was recently slapped with a $5,000 fine by the city of Fort Worth,
Texas, over service problems resulting from its ongoing upgrade of that system and the
introduction of a new billing system there.