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November 24, 2009

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Consensus on TV fees, up to a point

MOST people who yesterday attended a public hearing called by the Shanghai Development and Reform Commission on the adjustment of the city's cable television fees backed a plan for a new price of 23 yuan (US$3.37) per month for each household.

They were just about unanimous in opposing the mooted 77 percent rise from the existing 13 yuan.

The hearing at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum included residents, government officials, industry experts and city lawmakers.

"It seems like the only thing that remains unraised in daily life is everyone's salary," participant Li Zonghan said lightheartedly.

Commission authorities said they will continue to seek public opinion on two price-adjustment plans when the city switches from analog TV signals to digital in downtown's 2.5 million households.

No timetable for a final decision has been made but the downtown changeover is scheduled to be completed before 2011.

Under one plan, the monthly cable TV fee will rise from 13 to 23 yuan per household, regardless of how many signal ports. The current fee was introduced in 2001.

The other plan will charge 21 yuan for each signal port, which normally serves a single TV set. Under this proposal, subscribers will have to pay another 3 yuan for each extra port they install.

The commission flagged the adjustments this month after city TV operator Oriental Cable Network Co proposed a fee rise to cover the cost of the signal upgrade.

The operator, the city's biggest, reported a total loss of nearly 100 million yuan last year.

It fears this trend will continue as it expects an extra cost of 210 million yuan for the transformation.

The money from the fee rise will be used to recruit more maintenance workers and streamline operations, said a financial official of the operator.

"It sounds unreasonable to me that a company is appealing for a price rise simply because it is running in the red," said Chen Liuhong, a member of the Shanghai Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the city's top advisory body.

Chen suggested different price policies for different household demands since the sudden increases suggested were "too high."

However, officials of Oriental Cable said the new fees proposed were relatively lower than those of other cities in the country which had completed the switch.

The newly adjusted cable TV fee was usually about 25 yuan monthly for each household, said Liu Jiuping, a manager of the company.

The operator has guaranteed a better service after the switch.

The municipal government announced the citywide switch on October 19 in line with a national project that began in 2008.

The city is lagging as 106 out of 226 cities in China have finished the switch, according to authorities.

After the changeover, downtown residents will gain access to an improved version of the current 61 TV channels plus 15 new channels and 20 radio stations.

The city will provide subsidies or reduce part of the fees for low-income residents.

About 200,000 homes will godigital by the end of this yearin Xuhui, Putuo, Zhabei, Hongkou, Yangpu, Huangpu, Changning, Luwan and Jing'an districts and parts of the Pudong New Area.


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