Charter customers to see rate increase

Rick Wagner • Jan 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

The new year is bringing new price increases — with examples ranging from 51 cents to $10 a month — for Charter Communications customers throughout the area.

Notices went out the last week of December.

A Charter letter to a Johnson City customer with basic and expanded cable television service indicated that as of March 1, the price for that service would increase from $50.99 to $52.99, or $2 a month, which Charter officials said was the most common increase amount.

A notice for a Church Hill customer with basic-only service had exactly the same language. However, the effective date was Feb. 1 and the increase was $4.49 — from $12.50 to $16.99.

For Kingsport basic-only customers, however, the increase Feb. 1 is 51 cents, from $9.01 to $9.52 because Kingsport — along with Bristol and Johnson City — are regulated franchise communities, according to Charter’s Tri-Cities marketing director, Kevin Kick. Regulated franchise communities have lower prices for basic, he said, but basic and expanded combined usually add up to the same amount within a few cents across the region.

A Kingsport customer’s bill for the “Big” cable television package indicated the price would increase $10 a month, from $54.99 to $64.99, effective Feb. 1.

The letter also included a pitch for high-speed Internet service and a bundle package of cable, Internet and home phone.

In addition, another Kingsport customer with “Big” service got a notice of a bill going from $59.99 to $64.99, an increase of $5.

That outside-city notice, for change to take effect Feb. 1, also said:

•The standard digital box will decrease from $6.95 to $5 a month, a savings of $1.95.

•Additional standard digital box will go from current rates ranging from $3.95 to $6.95 to a flat $5.

•High-definition equipment and service will increase from $9.95 to $10.

•Digital video recording will change from a range of $18.94 to $21.93 to a flat $20 a month — $10 for the service and $10 for the DVR box.

•Cable card rates will increase from $1.50 to $2.

•The HD tier will change from a range of $3.99 to $9.99 to a flat $8.

In addition, the notice said Charter’s “new lowest speed offering, Charter high-speed Internet,” is going from previous speed levels of 384k or 3Mbps up to 5Mbps.

Kick said the entry-level price is going up to $44.95 for 5Mbps from $43.95 for 3Mbps, although those with Charter digital cable and unlimited long-distance phone service will continue to receive a $5 discount on the Internet service.

None of those prices includes taxes or franchise fees passed along to consumers, and they will not affect those on promotional packages.

These increases follow increases that went into effect in early 2007.

“It’s simply just like everybody else, the newspaper or the electric company or whoever, when the cost of services goes up,” said Tony Falin , Kingsport-based Northeast Tennessee director of operations for Charter Communications.

Falin said Charter generally announces price increases around the first of the year. Rate changes went into effect in 2007 in the same time frame.

He said programming charges have gone up, as have insurance, fuel, taxes and other expenses.

“When you do rate adjustments, generally depending on the community you have a time frame that’s required,” Falin said Friday. “Everything was supposed to be in February or March, I believe.”

Falin and Kick said Charter has so many packages available that the increases vary.

“All of this has gotten individual based on the plans people take and the number of boxes people have in the house,” Falin said. “There’s a very wide range on this.”

Falin said some bills might go up a few cents and others might remain the same, while the majority of those increasing would go up $2. He also said some franchise fees can vary and can affect bills in different political jurisdictions.

As part of the rate increase notices, at least some customers received a promotional code that can be used to find what bundle offers are available for an existing customer online or by calling a toll-free number.

New customers can get such information from the Charter Web site, www.charter.com, or by calling (866) 914-3071.

Falin said many customers find the bundled packages for video, Internet and phone can lower overall monthly telecommunications bills.

The specials generally last from three to six months, although he said some go from as little as one month to as much as 12 months.

Charter fees increased in Kingsport last year partly to pay for more than $191,000 in franchise fees on Internet and some digital services Charter did not pay the city from 2000 to 2005, according to an audit the city hired a private company to do.

Competitors include satellite television, satellite Internet and Embarq, a phone service provider that also provides DSL Internet access, satellite television and wireless phone service in a package.

Also, AT&T is seeking a statewide franchise to bypass local franchising requirements, but so far the Tennessee General Assembly has resisted that proposal.

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