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Comcast rates rising 3.4 percent

Xfinity subscribers in the Philadelphia region, New Jersey, and northern Delaware can expect bills to rise an average of 3.4 percent Thursday, Comcast Corp. announced.

Xfinity subscribers in the Philadelphia region, New Jersey, and northern Delaware can expect bills to rise an average of 3.4 percent Thursday, Comcast Corp. announced.

The higher bills affect customers who subscribe to TV, Internet, or phone services, company spokesman Jeff Alexander said.

The nation's largest pay-TV company has told Wall Street that it earns $137 a month from "customer relationships" - a 3.4 percent rate increase on $137 amounts to an additional $4.65 a month.

People on Xfinity promotional plans will not see higher prices. Comcast does not disclose how many Xfinity subscribers participate in promotions or special low-price deals to entice new subscribers to Comcast or to keep them with the cable company.

Alexander called the price-increase calculation a "weighted average." With a weighted average, some data points contribute more heavily to the average than others.

DirecTV, the nation's second-largest pay-TV company, said on Tuesday that average price increases to monthly customer bills would be 5.7 percent, beginning Feb. 5.

The average monthly charge for DirecTV subscribers is $107 a month. A 5.7 percent increase would be an additional $6.10 per month.

"Not all customers will be impacted. Some customers will not have an increase in their monthly programming fees," DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said.

Verizon Communications Inc., a major TV, Internet, and phone provider in the Philadelphia area, declined to disclose its price increases on its FiOS TV and Internet services.

Fran Shammo, Verizon's executive vice president and chief financial officer, told investors during the company's third-quarter conference call that Verizon would raise FiOS prices in late 2014.

Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski said price increases "will vary from customer to customer, based on the expiration of a customer's service agreement or promotional period."

Comcast has proposed acquiring Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable-TV company. The New York company has told its subscribers in a letter that it will increase prices in January, including a $2.75-a-month sports programming fee and an additional $2 to lease an Internet modem, according to reports.

Pay-TV companies disclose price changes to municipalities where they operate as well as to subscribers. Their rates are not regulated by state agencies as traditional utilities, such as electric and water companies.

Price adjustments, as the pay-TV companies call them, remain stubbornly higher than general inflation almost 20 years after the last telecommunications law overhaul in 1996.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the consumer price index for the Northeastern United States fell 0.4 percent in November and rose only 0.9 percent for the year - partly because of higher food and lower energy prices.

Comcast's price increases are "still beating inflation by a mile," said Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation of America. "Since the [Telecommunications Act of 1996], they have been increasing about 50 percent faster than inflation, and that is still going on."

Pay-TV companies mainly blame the soaring costs of sports programming and other entertainment channels for higher monthly bills.

Xfinity's triple-play prices for TV, Internet, and phone bundles are unchanged, according to a Comcast pricing brochure recently mailed to a Center City subscriber.

But some Xfinity double-play packages - or TV and Internet - will go up.

Internet Plus, a package of limited-basic TV and high-speed Internet service with HBO, will jump 7 percent, to $74.95 a month, according to the pricing brochure.

Comcast also boosted fees, including those for installation, upgrades, downgrades, and additional outlets.

The fee for an in-home service visit by a technician for TV service will jump 15 percent, to $37.05.

"We have worked very hard to hold down price adjustments, and there are no price changes for our Limited Basic, Digital Preferred, or Internet Essentials services," Alexander said in a statement.

"While we continue making investments in our network and technology to give customers more for their money, including more video across platforms, better experiences like X1, and faster Internet service, we periodically need to adjust prices due to increases we incur in programming, business costs, and new technology."

Comcast says it is investing to improve its customer experience, with modernized stores and an application that allows a customer to track a technician. The cable-TV giant recently released an X1 channel guide with audio, which may benefit blind and visually impaired TV viewers.