Group says Alaskans charged too much for TV

Posted: Tuesday, September 01, 2009

ANCHORAGE - An Anchorage-based consumer group contends Alaskans are paying too much for basic cable.

In a newly released report, AkPIRG claims General Communication Inc., the state's largest cable TV company, charges Anchorage residents much more for basic cable than companies in similar-sized cities in the Lower 48.

The way to fix that, according to AkPIRG, is state regulation. Gabe Aceves, the group's executive director, says consumers are otherwise stuck with a company that gets to charge "whatever it wants."

GCI, however, said the group's analysis was flawed, noting that the cable companies serving the Lower 48 cities cited by AkPIRG are massive corporations that can charge less because they spread their costs among millions.

Only one city in Alaska has regulated cable rates, Juneau, and it has one of the lowest basic-cable rates in the state. Morris, however, notes that customers in Ketchikan, also served by GCI, enjoy cheaper rates than Juneau and it's unregulated.

Alaska law does not allow cable TV rate regulation unless subscribers in a specific location approve it in an election. At least 15 percent of the local subscribers must participate in the election and 50 percent must vote yes.

Juneau subscribers voted for regulation in the 1990s because of their dismay at the rates charged by GCI's predecessor, Cooke Cablevision. GCI became regulated in Juneau when it bought Cooke.

Since then, no other Alaska community has petitioned for cable TV regulation.

AkPIRG focused its analysis on cable companies' "basic" package. For Anchorage, the basic package of 20 channels costs $24.99 a month.

According to AkPIRG, Comcast charges customers in Grand Rapids, Mich., $15.99 for 33 channels while subscribers in Stockton, Calif., pay $12.99 for 24 channels.

In regulated Juneau, subscribers pay $22.49 for 19 basic channels. Ketchikan residents, meanwhile, spend $19.79 for 16 channels.

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