November 26, 2001 11:00 pm

By The Observer

After raising its basic cable television rate on April 1, Charter Communications is doing it again effective with January billings in La Grande and Union.

While the April increase was $1.70 for basic service, the latest jump will be from $29.99 to $33.94 an increase of $3.95. Add to that a 16-cent increase in franchise fees charged by both the City of La Grande and the City of Union, which collect a 4 percent fee from each customer. Customers also pay other fees monthly, including an administrative fee and a Federal Communications Fee.

Our operational costs and programming continue to rise, said Charter Regional Manager Darrell Linklater. The big factor is the increasing cost of


The rate increase is just the cost of doing business, he said. We try to keep our costs down and havent raised them as much as other utilities, but as our fees go up, we have to pass them along to our customers.

The increase in April was attributed to the addition of several new channels, equipment costs and other external costs.

The only additional programming added recently was the ASCN sports channel (40), which carries Blazers games, Linklater said.

He said a $1 increase to $4.95 in some pay-per-view movie channels was done earlier.

Beginning today, those seeking service will have to call an 800 number (1-877-731-5420), which will ring into the Charter Customer Contact Center in Vancouver, Wash.

It will operate all the time, 24 hours, seven days a week. Were one of the last Charter systems to be tied into it. We wont take calls at our local office, but service will be dispatched electronically to customers in La Grande, Linklater said.

Customers still will be able to conduct business in the local office at Fourth Street and Adams Avenue, he said.

Clients with contracts, mainly for digital service, will be honored at the present rate until their contracts expire, Linklater said.

He added that he was in the process Monday of notifying the cities of the increases. Customers will be notified in their next bills, he said. He said Charter has about 4,000 customers in Union County.