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Cable TV to cost more in Tampa

Cable television fans in Tampa are going to see their habit grow more expensive in May, when cable rates increase $1.90 a month. Starting May 1, Jones Intercable subscribers will pay $18.85 for basic cable services, up from $16.95.

The rates do not include a 6 percent sales tax that subscribers also pay.

At the new charge, city residents will pay $1.05 more a month than their neighbors in Hillsborough County who are served by Paragon Cable. The new Jones rates are the highest cable costs in the Tampa Bay area, matching those of Paragon Cable in Pinellas County.

Senior citizens will continue to get a 10 percent discount and will see their rates rise to $16.97.

The new rates may irk some customers of Jones Intercable, which eliminated the USA Network from its basic cable subscription last year, said Bob Sepe, the city's director of cable communication.

After the company, which has had a non-exclusive franchise with the city since 1986, deleted USA Network, the city's cable offices were deluged with about 3,000 complaint calls, Sepe said.

With city cable rates twice what they were in 1983, Sepe expects to field hundreds of calls about the latest increase.

"Cable television is expensive, and it's getting more so," he said.

In 1986, federal legislation deregulating the cable industry went into effect, eliminating local government control of rate increases.

"The city cannot say, "Gee, I'm sorry, you can't do it,' or, "You can only do it $1.25 not $1.90,'

" Sepe said. "It has got no authority."

Last year, spurred by complaints from cable customers, the federal government began investigating the impact of cable deregulation. Since deregulation went into effect, rates for basic cable _ distinguished from pay channels such as Home Box Office _ rose an average of 26 percent nationwide, according to the General Accounting Office.

The Federal Communications Commission is conducting a series of hearings throughout the country on the issue, including one next week in Orlando, Sepe said.

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