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FCC launches consumer rights campaign

As federal cable rate regulation comes to a close, the chairman of the FCC starts a consumer education campaign to help cable users combat any hike in cable prices.

As federal control over cable pricing comes to an end, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission today started a consumer education campaign to clarify the rights of cable subscribers.

FCC chairman William Kennard unveiled a Cable Consumer Bill of Rights in an effort to educate consumers about what they can do to combat a possible cable rate hike now that federal pricing controls tomorrow are set to end.

With most popular cable In cable we trust? TV programming packages no longer subject to federal regulations, cable operators say they will be cautious not to increase prices for fear of driving away customers. Price hikes could lead to renewed federal regulation, or even a consumer exodus to competing multi-channel video programmers, such as satellite providers, industry executives said.

But consumer advocacy groups, and Kennard, are leery of the cable companies' promises.

"I am greatly concerned about cable rates rising following the end of rate regulation," Kennard said today in a statement.

In his eight-point plan, the FCC chief said he does not believe competition in the video programming marketplace alone will be able to keep cable rates in check. He said the FCC plans to continue to remove regulatory restrictions to spur increased competition in the market.

Kennard also said unhappy consumers should contact consumer groups and explore alternative services, such as direct broadcast satellite (DBS) operators.

Analysts said the bill of rights is Kennard's interpretation of "life after rate regulations."

"I think it's a nod to the Congressional side, saying that 'We're not regulating cable, but we are at least going to make an effort to educate consumers,'" said Melinda Mullet, a regulatory analyst at professional services firm Arthur Andersen. "[Consumers have] had remedies, they've always had remedies, and they still do."