Cable TV may face penalties for Web woes

/ Source: The Associated Press

Lawmakers in a suburban Washington, D.C., county may impose stiff penalties on cable television companies that do not quickly fix customer problems with their high-speed Internet access.

The legislation is one of the nation's first attempts by a local government to regulate cable modem service.

The Montgomery County plan calls for cable companies to restore Internet service within 24 hours of an outage or be forced to give consumers significant rebates. It also allows the county to impose fines on cable companies for violations. The regulation does not impose penalties for problems with the quality or speed of a connection.

"No one should have to pay for a service that isn't provided," county council member Marilyn Praisner said.

The county council is scheduled to vote on the proposal July 27, but cable companies are trying to attach amendments that would weaken the legislation. They say lawmakers are exaggerating the number of customer complaints about cable modem service.

"It's a regulation in search of a problem," said Brian Edwards, a spokesman for Comcast.

There are doubts about whether the county could even regulate cable Internet services.

Though local governments have long regulated cable television, the Federal Communications Commission has defined cable Internet as "an information service," breaking it away from cable regulations.