Suckered into cables hikes 

A car-repair shop advertised: "Why go elsewhere and be cheated? Come here first." That thought could just as well be applied to Congress, which cheated us big-time when they passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This big honker of a bill was rammed through Congress by lobbyists for the media giants, phone companies and cable operators. Among other things, the act deregulated cable TV companies, which promised us at the time that de-reg would spur competition and lower our monthly bills.;;Well, hello suckers! Two years later, instead of competition we've gotten a wave of megamergers that have reduced competition, and our monthly bills have gone up, not down.;;Now here come the cable companies with another sock-it-to-you round of rate hikes, which Rep. Ed Markey calls "a looming cable-rate El Nino." For example, Time Warner begins imposing another 10 percent increase on our bills this month. To add insult to injury, the cable giants are blaming customers for the rising bills! They say that we viewers are demanding more cable choices, and that they're having to pay more for this programming.;;Before you swallow that, check this out: The cable companies also own the programming companies! Time Warner owns HBO, CNN, the Home Shopping Network, TNT, Cinemax, Turner Broadcasting and the Cartoon Network, while also;co-owning Bravo, Court TV, American Movie Classics, Comedy Central and the Black Entertainment Network. Likewise, the largest cable company, TCI, owns such program providers as the Discovery Channel, Encore, the Learning Channel, Starz and the Family Channel.;;Sure these cable operators are paying more for their programming -- they're paying themselves! What a racket. Markey has a bill to re-regulate these cheats and stop the cable-rate rip-off. Call him at (202) 225-2836.

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