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Comcast rates going up again

Wed, 10/17/2007 - 8:25am
Ryan Kim, The San Francisco Chronicle

Copyright The San Francisco Chronicle

Beginning next month, Comcast customers who subscribe to stand-alone cable service will see their monthly bill increase by nearly 5 percent - the second rate boost this year.

The Bay Area's dominant cable provider, with 1.7 million subscribers locally, said the increase - which goes into effect Nov. 15 - is needed to pay for new products, improvements in customer service and upgrades to the regional infrastructure.

But Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group in San Francisco, said Comcast's latest price increase is disappointing because it suggests that even with the appearance of rival AT&T service, Comcast is not willing to stabilize pricing to stay competitive. Instead, she said, Comcast appears to be putting more pressure on its stand-alone cable customers to buy a bundle of products.

"Consumers are constantly being sold this line of competition lowering rates, but it seems to be raising it," Spatt said. "It's a competition to see who can charge more, who can force them into more bundles."

Comcast has invested $663 million in the Bay Area since it began service in 2002 and has been on a hiring spree recently, adding almost 700 workers in the past two years, the company said.

"We believe that the price that goes into effect reflects the increased value in our service," said Andrew C. Johnson, Comcast's vice president of communications.

The increase is the second one this year, following a nearly 6 percent boost in January. It will not, however, affect customers taking Comcast's limited $99 "triple play" bundle of video, phone and broadband.

Subscribers taking basic cable also will not be affected.

But for regular users, who pay about $50 a month, the increase is just the latest in an almost annual ritual. Before January, Comcast raised rates by 6 percent each of the previous two years.

"I don't like the idea they keep jacking up the prices," said Donna Shore, a 77-year-old Rohnert Park resident on a fixed income. "I may have to cut back on my privileges, so to speak, and start renting Netflix."

Also on Nov. 15, Comcast is adding four high-definition channels: History, Home & Garden, Discovery and USA Network. And, the cable provider has built up its on-demand library to nearly 10,000 programs, most of which are free for digital subscribers.

While Comcast has been getting knocks for its increasing cable prices, its broadband pricing has stayed stable for five years. Its new voice service also is not being increased.

AT&T, which last year began offering a competing cable-like television service called U-Verse, has not raised rates on its service yet. Spokesman John Britton said AT&T has been signing up 8,000 new subscribers a week, in part due to Comcast's regular price increases.

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