Basic cable-television rates for 13 areas of Pinellas County including St. Petersburg will increase about 11 percent starting Dec. 1 _ the fourth rate increase since March 1988. Paragon Cable of Pinellas County will increase its monthly rate for basic cable to $19.95 from $17.95 a month for its 80,000 customers, said Robert Barlow, general manager for the cable company. He attributed the increase to rising operating costs.
Paragon's rates have increased by 25 percent since the City Council extended Paragon's franchise with the city in May 1989 and by 33 percent since February 1988. City Manager Robert Obering said he was shocked by the increases.
"I am appalled at the substantial increases that the rate users are being assessed," Obering said Tuesday. "But there's nothing we can do about the rates."
The city does not regulate cable rates.
Cable-television customers will be notified of the rate increases in their November bills, the first of which will go out next Wednesday, Barlow said.
Barlow said he and other employees of Paragon were bracing for a public backlash as a result of the increased rates.
"If I never did another rate increase, I would be the happiest person in the world," Barlow said.
Paragon is increasing rates because its programing costs have gone up 63 percent, Barlow said.
The Persian Gulf crisis also has played into the need for increases, Barlow said. Rising prices for gasoline and other petroleum products, such as cable, also have increased the company's costs, Barlow said.
Basic cable gives customers access to 37 or 54 channels, depending on the area where the customer lives.
Along with the increase in basic cable, the monthly cost for having a second television hooked up to cable will increase by 45 cents from $5.50 to $5.95, Barlow said.
The increases will not affect other services. Paragon's 12-channel, broadcast-only package that receives WOR, WGN and WTBS, will remain at $6.95 a month.
And the costs for the premium channels, such as HBO and Showtime, will remain the same.
City Council member Dean Staples said he doesn't think Paragon is giving its cable customers a fair deal.
"Well, for the level of service they're providing and the programing they're providing I don't think they're comparable with other areas," Staples said. "I don't think they need another rate increase."
Another cable-television company that operates in Pinellas County often is held up for rate comparison. Vision Cable customers, who are in unincorporated Pinellas County and Clearwater, pay $13.95 a month for 45 channels.
Barlow said he wasn't sure why Paragon's rates were so much higher.
"I wish I knew how they were doing it," Barlow said. "They have to have the same price increases we're having."
Paragon customers in these areas also will be affected: Largo, Gulfport, South Pasadena, Treasure Island, St. Petersburg Beach, Belleair Beach, Belleair Bluffs, Belleair Shore, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, Seminole and a small part of unincorporated Pinellas County outside Largo's city limits.