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McTopy fighting cable rate hike

By Susan Stewart / L’Observateur / January 30, 1998

LAPLACE – The St. John the Baptist Parish Council was informed byCouncilman Joel McTopy that the recent increase in the cost for cable isnot etched in stone.

“We don’t have to take everything at face value,” he said, adding that heprefers to make decisions based on facts and instead had made a decisionon something he assumed was fact.

Chris Evridge, general manager at Time Warner Cable, previously informedthe council that effective Jan. 1 the cost for basic cable and othertelevision luxuries would increase, spanning a .50 cents increase for basiccable up to 15 percent for top-of-the-line service.

Although several members of the council and residents spoke up inopposition to the increase, it still occurred.

“Mr Evridge tells us that Time Warner is doing this, this and this, and as aresult we need to raise your rates. He told us verbally, and I want to getthe actual facts,” McTopy said.

McTopy said he set out to break that paradigm after researching andfinding out that he could have the last three years of Time Warner Cableservices reviewed and the results sent via certified letter to Evridge.

The report will include information on how the cable service has impactedthe consumer, specifically in terms of what Time Warner has done toupgrade the system, how many new channels and programs have beenadded, the quality of the picture and quantity time of viewing.

McTopy said after collecting the facts he will sit down with an engineerto decipher and “determine if we are paying for something that we’re notgetting,” he said.

At the time of the rate increase, McTopy said the council did not realize”we had a tool to measure the quality of service that we’re getting, addingthat the parish has not been told the whole story, and results of the reportcould prove an unwarranted rate increase.”Sure we got a couple of more channels, but the service is not any better,the down time is terrible and it doesn’t warrant an increase,” McTopysaid.

Evridge said he was only following the big corporate rules as to when arate increase will take place.

“I only follow the directions I’m given, and I was told from our corporateoffice that a rate increase would be given for this area on January first,”Evridge said.

McTopy said St. John Parish does have options.

“Just because someone says it’s so, it’s not always the case, the FCC willonly give Time Warner an increase if it can prove that the company hasupgraded the system substantially and it needs a rate increase to off-setor recoup its capital investment,” McTopy said.

In further response to McTopy, Evridge said: “Maybe McTopy is getting a lotof calls from people in his district; he’s probably getting bombarded andhe’s probably getting tired of it.”

McTopy said that’s not the case.

“I knew there was very much of a concern throughout the entirecommunity in every district,” he said, adding that he’s met more peoplewho are concerned about not having cable than about the rate increase.

Evridge said the bottom line now is that people are getting more for theirmoney. However, he said he still gets calls from people with pettycomplaints, “who say they don’t care for the cartoon network, or somecall to say they love it, so you can’t please everybody,” he said.

Evridge said Time Warner has added 28 channels, including premiumservices. “But everybody equates the rate increase or the price test to allthe channels we have,” he said.

Evridge said Time Warner has to take the one rate increase the first of theyear, and regardless to what happens the rest of the year can’t do anythingtill the next year,”So we can’t come back and say guess what, we need more money,” Evridgesaid.

In the meantime, McTopy said he will wait for a reply from Evridge and,based on the results, the FCC will decide whether or not Time Warner hasgiven local citizens a value-added service to necessitate the increase incable rates.

“This will include the quality as well as the system,” McTopy said.

McTopy said he will send the certified letter sent no later than next week,requesting reports from the past three years. He has 90 days from therate increase to file the complaint. Evridge said Time Warner is currently setting up on the west bank, withfiber optics and wiring already installed.The company has 10,000 subscribers on the east bank and approximately600 on the west bank.

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