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Comcast To Raise Rates for Nationals

Comcast said the price increase would affect about 1.6 million customers in the Baltimore-Washington corridor who will start receiving the channel around Sept. 8 -- three weeks before the Nationals' season ends.

The company has not yet decided whether to raise rates for 600,000 subscribers in more distant parts of Western Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania who will get access to the games over the next two years.

The $2 increase is separate from rate increases Comcast typically announces at the end of the year. In the Washington area, Comcast said it raised rates 6.3 percent for 2005 and 5 percent for 2006.

The customers affected by the $2 increase will be those who subscribe to Comcast's "expanded basic cable" service. Expanded basic costs $46.13 a month in the District and includes 76 channels, the company said.

The rate increase will not affect customers who subscribe to the basic cable plan -- which costs $13.45 for 29 channels in the District -- or those who get only Internet access or telephone service from the company.

Comcast declined to say whether it might defray the cost of the new channel by selling advertising or dropping other channels from its lineup.

Comcast said subscribers would begin to get notifications of the rate increase this month and that it would go into effect in the coming months, depending on rules set by local franchising authorities.

"The rate increase shouldn't be a big surprise given that sports programming is the most essential programming for distributors to have," said Paul Gallant, an analyst for Stanford Washington Research Group. "Without knowing what Comcast's underlying costs are, no one can know whether they are charging more than the cost of obtaining the channel."

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

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