by Max Marbut
If you live in one of the more than 300,000 households in North Florida that purchase cable television from Comcast, chances are you’ve already been notified the price you pay each month for service is going up. Again.
Comcast officials say the increase is part of doing business. The City’s Cable Franchise Manager, Carolyn Broughton, said how much Comcast charges for their service is not addressed in the company’s 27-page agreement that allows it to be the sole provider of cable television service in Duval County.
“Rates are not part of the contract. The only requirement is that Comcast must notify the City at least 30 days in advance when a price increase is going into effect,” she added.
In a letter sent to Broughton Oct. 17, Comcast Director of Government Affairs and Community Relations Ann Carter Murphy notified the City of the “scheduled price adjustment” that would become effective Dec. 1. The letter stated, “In today’s challenging economic environment, Comcast like many other companies is experiencing increased business and operational costs.” Areas of increased costs specifically cited in the correspondence were “gas prices, health care costs, increases in the cost we pay for programming and technology and service improvements. Even with these pressures, our average customer will pay only 3.9 percent more next year, well under the rate of inflation.”
According to figures provided by Comcast, the 3.9 percent price increase is representative of customers who take multiple video products including video, high-speed Internet and Comcast Digital Voice telephone service.
The number of channels and the programs available also factor into the price increase.
“The company spends about $6 billion a year to give our customers the best content and most video choices,” said Tim Horn, vice president and general manager for Comcast’s Jacksonville market. “While we have been aggressive at controlling costs, we expect continuing increases in programming, particularly in sports. Comcast has also increased the value of its services and made investments to be able to offer the largest Video On Demand library and the most High Definition choices, which impacts the cost of delivering television services.”
One group of customers who have seen a much larger increase in the price they pay each month for Comcast service is those who subscribe to “Limited Basic Service,” the lowest-cost service available.
That service cost went up to $10.80 per month from $9.85 on Feb. 16, 2006. As of Dec. 1, Limited Basic Service customers will be billed $16.75, an increase of 70 percent in three years. Approximately 10 percent of Comcast’s customers subscribe to Limited Basic Service, while more than half subscribe to digital cable service and 40 percent purchase bundled services each month. A new bundle that will be available after Dec. 1 includes Digital Starter television, Economy High-Speed Internet and Comcast Voice local service for $99 a month.
One aspect of Comcast service that is going down in price in December for some customers is the monthly charge to rent a digital cable box. In the letter to the City, Murphy stated a digital cable box will now be available as part of Full basic Tier Service. If Full Basic Tier customers choose to take the equipment, they will have access to Video On Demand, an interactive program guide and other features. Full Basic Tier customers who currently have a digital cable box and a charge for it on their monthly bill will no longer have that incremental charge on their bill after Dec. 1.
Broughton has been the City’s cable franchise manager for a year and a half and has gotten used to what happens when Comcast customers are notified of a price increase.
“We always get a lot of phone calls when the rates change,” she said.