Bits&Bytes: Comcast unveils higher rates after FCC eases rules

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Just days after federal regulators softened rules making it easier for Verizon Communications Inc. and other phone companies to go head-to-head with cable firms for a place in America's living rooms, Comcast said the average local monthly bill will rise 2.7 percent.

Comcast said yesterday it was raising the monthly rate for its cable TV service beginning Feb. 1 but that other services, such as high-speed Internet and landline phone service, would remain as is. Spokeswoman Jody W. Doherty couldn't say exactly how much Comcast cable rates would rise because the prices vary based on level of service.

The going rate in the city of Pittsburgh for Comcast's standard cable package with up to 70 channels is currently $49.02 but will jump to $51.34 -- a 4.7 percent increase -- in February, she said. The price "adjustments reflect the increased value of our services," Ms. Doherty said, as well as the more than $200 million Comcast has spent improving service offerings.

She added that Philadelphia-based Comcast is hiring more than 150 call center and field service representatives across the region "to meet increased demand for their products."

In a split 3-2 vote Wednesday, the five-member Federal Communications Commission voted to support new rules that would prevent municipalities from "unreasonably refusing" to award franchise agreements to cable providers. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said the change was needed because "competition is desperately needed in the video market."

A group of Carnegie Mellon University students are putting the final touches on a report considering what a citywide Wi-Fi Internet access could mean to Pittsburgh, but stops short of telling the city what to do.

"It's not our job to say what's best," said Jon M. Peha, an associate director of CMU's Center for Wireless and Broadband Networking, whose class of about 21 undergraduate and graduate students spent the fall semester doing the work free of charge.

The report, likely to be released to the public sometime in January, sought to present scenarios estimating how much a citywide Wi-Fi Internet network might cost, what one or multiple Wi-Fi providers could expect to earn from each neighborhood, and how city government and services might use the Wi-Fi network.

The class presented its analysis to an invitation-only panel that included city Councilman Bill Peduto, telecom attorney and former city Councilman Dan Cohen, a representative from Verizon and technology nonprofit 3 Rivers Connect. The class is tweaking the report before making it widely available.

There are trade-offs to blanketing the city with Wi-Fi, Dr. Peha said. "Some parts oft he city are probably profitable" for a Wi-Fi provider but to bring Wi-Fi to the whole city would require additional financial resources, he said.

Education software firm Apangea Learning will make Downtown its home Jan. 1, CEO Louis Piconi said. Apangea has close ties to the region but had made Indiana, Pa., its headquarters. Mr. Piconi said setting up shop on Liberty Avenue will allow it to recruit from a larger pool of talent. "Our new headquarters puts us in the heart of southwestern Pennsylvania's technical and creative community," he said.

By the end of January, Sen. Jane Orie, R-McCandless, and her bipartisan crew of elected officials are expected to release their report on how Pennsylvania's $11 billion tobacco settlement windfall has been spent.

The report -- produced by the seven-person Senate panel made up of four selected by the Republican leadership and three picked by the Democrats -- will be based on information gathered from researchers, venture capitalists, biotech companies and other health-related businesses around the state. It was due Nov. 30, but sources say Democrats wanted to make some last-minute changes.

On a related front, about 110 denizens of the local life sciences scene will get face time Jan. 3 with U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter at an invite-only open forum sponsored by the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

Bits & Bytes is taking next week off and heading west for a winter respite. Happy Holidays. Corilyn Shropshire can be reached at or 412-263-1413.


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