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Boston regains power to regulate basic cable

Tue, 04/10/2012 - 5:25pm
Brian Santo

The city of Boston has had its power to regulate basic cable rates restored by the Federal Communications Commission, which agreed with Mayor Thomas Menino’s argument that competition in the city’s cable market was too weak.

Comcast immediately said it would appeal the FCC’s decision.

Boston said Comcast wanted to raise rates on basic cable subscribers another 5 percent (to $16.58). Local news sources say Comcast’s monthly fee for basic cable has gone up 80 percent from three years ago, when it was just a little more than $9 a month.

The mayor’s office a year ago filed with the FCC for permission to reregulate, arguing that many Boston citizens do not have a choice of cable providers. The FCC’s agreement restores a power the city of Boston lost 11 years ago.

“We’re pleased that the FCC recognizes what we’ve been saying all along – cable isn’t competitive in Boston,” Menino said in a statement yesterday that announced the FCC’s decision. “Comcast’s disproportionate rate increases on basic cable service put an undue burden on Boston’s working families who rely on this service for essential local news and programming. They are upset and frustrated with increasing rates and a lack of choice in cable providers.”

The two main cable providers in the city are Comcast and RCN, and of course DirecTV and Dish Network also provide coverage. Verizon FiOS is available in some surrounding areas, such as Woburn.

According to the Boston Herald, Comcast has 1.8 million subs in the entire Boston market, with about 165,000 in the city of Boston. Of those, about 15,000 receive basic cable service. RCN serves approximately 61,000 customers in the entire state of Massachusetts and around 16,000 in the city.

This FCC decision to allow a city to reregulate is rare, if not singular, and Comcast intends to fight it.

“We plan to refile as soon as possible as provided under the FCC Order,” the MSO said in a statement.

“Boston cannot reregulate until the Commission acts on that filing,” Comcast spokeswoman Doreen Vigue told the Herald. “With the level of competition in the city, prices should be set by market forces, not by regulation.”

About 15,000 of Comcast’s Boston customers receive basic cable service, which delivers about two dozen channels, including local network affiliates, public television stations and a handful of lesser-known channels, such as community access and municipal providers.

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