Representatives of several cable television companies said last night that Prince William County's proposed ordinance to regulate their industry is burdensome and certain to increase the cost to consumers.
"We object to a lot of regulation that doesn't produce any benefit," C. Lacey Compton Jr. of Prestige Cable told the seven-member Board of Supervisors during a public hearing. Prestige is the county's largest cable company and serves about 15,000 households, most of them in the Dale City area.
"You are punishing a whole lot of people, and raising a whole lot of rates for no good reason," Compton said.
Although parts of Prince William County have been served by cable television since 1960, the county remains one of the largest areas in the nation that has not chosen to regulate the cable TV industry.
Supervisors appear split on the proposed ordinance, with two supervisors expected to vote for the measure and two against it. The other three votes on the board are uncertain, according to county officials and board members.
Cable television operators in Prince William oppose the ordinance's provision for a licensing fee.
The proposal, which is expected to come before county supervisors next month, would effectively require licensing the five cable television companies operating in the county and impose a licensing fee equal to 3 percent of each company's gross annual revenues.
The county would use the revenue from the licensing fee to enforce provisions of the ordinance, including the quality of service, the billing systems and construction.
"That 3 percent will be used up in the bureaucracy and the administration of collecting the revenue," Compton said. "I'd hate to see Prince William County take any steps to add any bureaucracy or add any employes to regulate an industry that. . . has done an excellent job."
Although the proposed ordinance leaves open the possibility of cable television rate regulation by the county, officials said yesterday it is unlikely that this provision will be in the final draft.
County supervisors began considering regulation of cable television after a barrage of complaints about cable service early this year. Most of the complaints involved Prestige Cable.
County Attorney John H. Foote, who drafted the proposed ordinance described it as, "in large part . . . a consumer protection measure."
"This is not an onerous piece of work for the companies to comply with," he said, insisting that "no substantial rate increases" would be generated by the proposed ordinance.
But industry representatives disagreed with Foote's assessment. They contended that the cost of the licensing fees and other provisions of the ordinance would be passed along to consumers, and that a provision to give refunds to customers whose cable service was interrupted would prove to be too costly.
Another public hearing on the proposed ordinance is scheduled Tuesday in the eastern end of the county.