Charter hikes cable prices in Ashland

The era of inexpensive cable television in Ashland is over.

Charter Communications raised the price of its most popular cable television package, Expanded Basic, from $36.99 per month in Ashland to $52.99 per month in November. Ashlanders now pay the same rate that other Southern Oregon residents pay.

The city of Ashland began rolling out its own cable television and high-speed Internet service in the late 1990s, going head-to-head against the company Falcon and then Charter. Locked in fierce competition, neither the city's Ashland Fiber Network nor Charter charged market rates for cable television.

Customers saved money, but AFN sank into $15.5 million worth of debt. In 2006, the city handed over the money-losing cable television business to the local company Ashland Home Net. AFN still offers high-speed Internet and began operating in the black last year, according to city officials. Meanwhile, the city is paying off the debt.

In late 2006, Charter Communications warned its current customers and new customers that they would receive 12 months of cable television service for $36.99 per month, but that the price would increase to regular Southern Oregon rates late this year.

Now that the price increase is here, some customers are angry and are looking for alternatives.

Resident Wally Ramsay said he went to Charter's office in Medford last week to complain and to find out if there would be any more special offers for Ashland.

"When I was there, there were no less than three other people from Ashland who came in," he said. "I spoke with the people from Ashland and we shared information. We are all looking for a better price."

Ramsay said Charter representatives didn't offer him any discounts on cable television. He said he was reluctant to accept a special deal to bundle together cable television, high-speed Internet and telephone service because he fears it might be a promotional offer, with price increases to follow.

Mike O'Herron, Charter's general manager for Southern Oregon, said Charter did not raise prices in Ashland because the city of Ashland got out of the cable television business.

"There is still competition from satellite and Ashland Home Net," he said. "We look at competition all the time."

O'Herron said Charter is trying to standardize rates across not only Southern Oregon, but the Northwest as well. He said consistency is more cost-effective for the company.

Customers can bundle together Expanded Basic cable television, high-speed Internet and Charter's new telephone service for $99.99 per month.

That price is set for 12 months, O'Herron said.

The phone service includes unlimited long distance, 911 service and features like caller identification and voice mail. People can keep their own phone numbers.

Customers pay extra for high definition cable television channels, he said.

Charter's rate increase has driven some customers to Ashland Home Net.

"We've signed up several new customers in the last month because of this," said Ashland Home Net President Gary Nelson.

Ashland Home Net offers Expanded Basic cable television for $47.99 per month, including high definition channels. The price will go up to $49.99 as of Jan. 1, 2008, he said.

Customers can bundle telephone service with unlimited long distance and other features, Expanded Basic cable television and high-speed Internet for $109.99. That price will go up to $111.99 on Jan. 1, 2008. The price is not a promotional offer that will end after a certain period of time, Nelson said.

Both Nelson and O'Herron said the cost of cable television continues to rise primarily because of increasing programming costs.

Ashland Home Net is still working to combine information from its Web sites in one location, Nelson said.

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