- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Customers of Comcast's cable service in Washington got some bad news last week. Come the new year, monthly rates will rise an average of 6 percent, the largest subscription increase in five years. This parallels a national trend over the last six years, during which cable television providers have raised rates more than 45 percent.

Comcast says higher programming costs and technology improvements have forced the rate increases, and that may be true in part. What's more likely is that the company is increasing its rates to help pay the interest on the $30 billion debt it acquired when it purchased AT&T; Broadband for $47.5 billion last month. Whatever the real reason, a higher monthly bill probably isn't the kind of holiday present that Comcast's customers want.

Sen. John McCain plans to look into the matter when he takes over the chairmanship of the Senate Commerce Committee next year. The Arizona Republican has already directed the General Accounting Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, to look into whether the rising rates truly reflect higher programming costs.

Meanwhile, consumer activists have seized on the issue. Gene Kimmelman, Washington director of the Consumers Union, told a reporter that cable rate increases "should never be appreciably higher than general inflation." But that's the kind of unsound advice one might expect from a nonprofit nabob.

Here's another approach the politicians and Naderites might consider: Do nothing. If Comcast and other cable companies want to raise their rates, so be it. Last we checked, cable television was a service, not a right. And to provide that service, Comcast and the others need to turn a profit so they stay afloat. If customers decide they've had enough, they can take their business elsewhere such as to one of the many companies offering satellite television service. That's the free-market gamble Comcast's executives know all too well. It's a pity that public servants and agitators do not.

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