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Cable company questions rebate

November 18, 2000

Paul Clinton and Buck Wargo

CIVIC CENTER -- A Charter Communications executive has balked at

Burbank's order to roll back the monthly charge for its wire maintenance

program by almost $1 and issue refund checks to the approximately 17,500

city residents who have signed up for the program.

Joe Camicia, vice president of government and public relations for

Charter, said the company has no intention of implementing the city

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resolution. Instead, Charter will appeal the decision to the Federal

Communications Commission, he said.

"They can't [force the cost-reduction measures] until we get an

official determination from the FCC," Camicia said. "We don't think this

particular practice is something the city can regulate."

Charter charges customers 95 cents per month to insure maintenance of

their cable and telephone wires. The City Council voted unanimously to

order Charter to reduce that charge to 4 cents, provide better notice to

customers that the program is optional and write refund checks to

customers who have paid for the service since Sept. 15, 1998.

Burbank City Atty. Dennis Barlow said Charter must comply unless it

obtains a court order. Barlow and other officials said Charter was

overcharging subscribers.

"They need to do it right away," Barlow said. "We hope they'll come

around voluntarily."

Charter may now eliminate the insurance program that enables cable

workers to fix all wiring problems within homes for free, Camicia said.

Camicia accused Glendale officials, who passed a similar resolution

Tuesday, of bilking the company. If Charter is required to implement both

city's orders, that may force Charter to go to an hourly rate of $22.61

for wire repairs, which would could mean more money for Glendale, Camicia

said. Glendale has a 5% tax on cable bills as part of a franchise fee.

"Some of us are not quite so trusting," Camicia said. "Why is it so

important for the city to do this? There is a big difference between 5%

on 95 cents than 5% on $23."

The comment irked Glendale officials. City spokesman Ritch Wells said

that if the issue was so important to Charter executives, they should

have attended a public hearing Tuesday.

"I find it unfortunate Mr. Camicia could make such an allegation,"

Wells said. "Reducing the wire maintenance fee will obviously make it

more affordable for subscribers, especially senior citizens on fixed

incomes."

Charter earns about $40,000 a month or $480,000 a year in wire fees

from roughly 40,000 subscribers in the Glendale, Burbank and La Canada

Flintridge area, Wells said. Cities such as Burbank and Glendale would

give up 5% of that total, or about $1.20 per subscriber per year.

Camicia questioned whether either city has the authority to regulate

the maintenance plan, but FCC spokesman Mike Perko said it falls within

the city's discretion. Such decisions, however, are subject to review by

the federal agency, he said.

Bill Marticorena, Burbank's special counsel on cable issues, said the

city can regulate Charter's basic rate package, installation charges,

ancillary services and the wire maintenance program.

"The city's basis is clear," Marticorena said. "The FCC has ruled on

these cases previously."

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