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Iowa City Press-Citizen Opinion Saturday, May 11, 1996 11A

Cable television costs are way too high

Guest Opinion

Nicholas Johnson

I've had it with cable television. It's time to fight back.

We get less and pay more. TCI gives Dubuque 31 more channels than Iowa City, for $50 a year less.

And June 1, we get another nearly $50ayear rate hike. With about 20,000 customers, that's $1 million more for TCI, which already was sucking $8 million a year out of Iowa City in 1993.

Nearly 70 percent of us subscribe. With the average TV set running seven hours a day, 365 days a year, TCI has a greater impact on this community than all our churches, schools and the University of Iowa combined.

The monthly fee will be nearly three times what it was when cable began. Have TCI's costs increased? Perhaps -- for the wheelbarrows to haul our checks to the bank. (TCI pays for programming -- often to firms it also owns. But even TCI's figures show it costs less than 60 cents a month for ''basic''; less than $4.50 for ''extended''. And that's before ad revenue. )

Cable's biggest initial cost is the capital to wire a city. That's been substantially depreciated. Rates should go down with time, not up. Imagine the return on depreciated capital $9 million will represent.

Our franchise demanded a state of the art system 15 years ago -- not bailing wire and duct tape. We didn't have it then, and we sure don't have it now. TCI keeps promising upgrades. If it ever happens we'll then have 1980s technology, plus another soaring rate hike.

Iowa City residents are willing to help the needy. But TCI is the nation's largest cable company. It has 13 million subscribers. It rakes in more than $5 billion a year. Has it fallen on hard times? Scarcely. Last year its revenues were up 18 percent.

Does TCI really need a rate hike? Of course not. So why are they getting it, aside from rapacious greed?

Because the cable industry has given enough money to enough senators and members of Congress to control the FCC. And the FCC dictates to the Coralville and Iowa City councils the rates cities have to approve for cable monopolists.

And stock prices. The past two years the Dow Jones went up 52 percent. TCI only increased by 24 percent. So Iowa City's being robbed to impress New York City financiers.

We do have options, as a community and as individuals.

The city can authorize TCI competitors, such as:

These choices are up to our City Council.

Other options are ours:

Feel like shouting, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore"? You don't have to take it. Get the City Council to move. And meanwhile, let's all practice a little guerrilla self-defense.

Nicholas Johnson is a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (and Iowa City Broadband and Telecommunications Commission), and author of How to Talk Back to Your Television Set. He teaches communications law at the UI College of Law.

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