Consumer Notes

Article excerpt

Cable Wars

Advocates of greater competition in the cable TV industry won one in Maryland recently.

The Montgomery County Council approved a move that will give 90% of county households a choice of cable service, some as soon as next spring, The Washington Post reports. The move ends Cable TV Montgomery's 16-year monopoly, and competition is expected to bring expanded programming at lower costs to the more than 320,000 consumers in the county who subscribe to cable.

The new player in Montgomery County--District of Columbia-based Starpower Communications-will offer its own fiber-optic cable service, high-speed Internet access, and telephone service. Starpower's basic cable package of 94 channels costs $31.95 a month--some $5 less than Cable TV Montgomery's comparable 73-channel basic cable service--and can be had for even less if "bundled" with other services. Cable TV Montgomery is responding by spending $65 million to convert to fiber-optic cable that will allow it to provide more channels, Internet access, and digital television by 2001, proving once again that competition benefits consumers (see "How to Get Better Cable TV at Lower Prices," CR, May 1990).

Across the country, meanwhile, competitive efforts have taken a different tack, and stalled as the San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently declined to make AT&T open its cable TV system to competitors seeking to provide high-speed Internet access, The New York Times reports.

Rivals such as America Online and local phone companies failed to persuade the city leaders that high-speed Internet service should be more like long-distance phone service, and that the company providing the connection should share its lines with competitors in return for reasonable fees. However, the supervisors did require AT&T to complete a $50 million upgrade of its cable system to digital technology within four years, permitting high-speed Internet access and other consumer services.

When It Rains, It Floods

Beware if you're buying a new house that it's not located in a flood plain. That's what happened to unwitting consumers in Pennsylvania. As a result, they face severe restrictions on the use of their property (construction of above- and in-ground pools, perimeter fences, and sheds are prohibited, for example), may have to take costly measures to comply with the law, and suffer the potential loss in property value.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fischer recently filed suit against property developer Windsor Homes, Inc. and First American Flood Data Systems, Inc. …