CABLE-TV CUSTOMERS MAY GET HELP FROM FCC

Television viewers who are confused about new cable-TV regulations take heart: Federal regulators say help is one phone call away. Officials at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who are notorious for speaking in jargon and bouncing callers from one office to the next, say they are changing their ways.

The FCC is in the process of hiring and organizing a staff of 240 lawyers, accountants, economists, and clerical workers. They will be divided into teams, each of which will have authority over all cable problems in one region of the country. But the agency emphasizes that it is not a police force looking for violations among the nation's 11,000 cable companies. And consumers can't expect every change in monthly bills to be covered by the law. For example, subscription fees charged for once-free cable TV program guides or fees for fixing VCRs are not covered by the law.

The public's biggest misconception about the new law appears to be that all rates would go down and that the government monitors everything cable-related, FCC officials say. The agency regulates the cost of channels that aren't basic, including premium channels, (such as HBO and Showtime) and pay-per-view. For a recording with information about the new federal cable law and how to help enforce it, call the FCC at 202-632-0004.

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