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PENNSYLVANIA SEN. FISHER UNVEILS BILL TO GIVE PROTECTION TO CABLE CUSTOMERS

HARRISBURG, Pa., March 8 /PRNewswire/ -- Claiming "it's time to put an old controversy to rest," Sen. Mike Fisher (R-Allegheny) today unveiled legislation that would give consumers added protection against cable rate increases.

"When cable companies hike their rates, there are often a lot of complaints and controversy. But ultimately, there's not much customers can do to stop unreasonable increases. Today, I propose giving them a greater voice so that they can fight outrageous increases," Fisher said.

Unlike other major telecommunications service providers, cable television is not regulated at the state level by the Public Utility Commission (PUC). The rates and operations of cable television providers in Pennsylvania are regulated under a dual system involving the local municipality and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Speaking at a news conference in the State Capitol, Fisher stressed that his legislation is not intended to prevent cable operators from making "reasonable profits."

"Everything goes up in price. That's inflation. I'm talking here about giving people the power to stand up against huge, unfair increases that are foisted upon them," he explained, noting that many communities are only served by one cable company.

Under Fisher's bill, all cable companies operating in Pennsylvania would be required to notify the Office of Consumer Advocate of any proposed cable rate increase. The Consumer Advocate would then be authorized to:

-- Represent subscribers before the local franchise authority;

-- Provide mediation for disputes concerning franchise renewal terms

and conditions, and,

-- Enter into agreement with and assist the local franchise

authority in bringing the complaints of subscribers to the FCC.

"Right now, cable customers have little recourse. Cable increases can virtually be forced down their throats," Fisher said.

In the past, cable consumers who had a grievance concerning cable rates or service could complain either to their local municipality or directly to the FCC. Under recent changes to the federal law, cable subscribers can no longer complain directly to the FCC but must take their complaint to the local franchise authority. The local franchise authority (local government) may then contact the FCC after it reviews the rate concerns and deems the complaint appropriate.

"Allowing the Consumer Advocate into the game gives consumers a better chance of fighting an increase. Certainly the Consumer Advocate will carry more weight with local franchise authorities than individual customers. Plus, the Consumer Advocate could take complaints directly to the FCC on behalf of the local franchise authority," Fisher noted.

Fisher's legislation comes on the heels of a 12 to 17 percent rate increase proposed by TCI of Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh region's largest cable operator.

"That was a factor in my decision to introduce this legislation," Fisher conceded, "but it really goes much deeper than that. Cable increases have been a source of statewide controversy for years. It's time to empower cable customers and put an old controversy to rest."

Fisher said his legislation is particularly important now, in light of the telecommunications deregulation bill signed into law by President Clinton last month. Although the new law is expected to eventually increase competition among cable providers, consumer groups fear it may open the door for rate increases before competition actually begins.

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/CONTACT: David Rice of Sen. Mike Fisher's office, 717-787-5839/

CO: Pennsylvania Senate ST: Pennsylvania IN: ENT SU: LEG

DP-MK -- PHF011 -- 1627 03/08/96 13:29 EST
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Date:Mar 8, 1996
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