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Dish Network, Cox System Hike Rates

EchoStar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network and Cox Communications Inc., at least in Arizona, are imposing single-digit rate increases this year, according to officials for both companies.

Dish Network will raise its prices on average 4% in 2006, the direct-broadcast satellite provider confirmed last week.

And Cox in Phoenix also unveiled its plan to increase rates roughly 3% on some offerings effective Feb. 15. The cost of Cox Digital Cable will rise by $4, to $49.95 a month, while 22-channel limited basic will increase $2, to $19.95. The price of Cox’s three-play bundle — video, voice and data — will remain $99.95 per month.

Cox hasn’t determined if it will raise rates at its other cable systems or announced any plans to do so, company spokeswoman Stephanie Davis said last Friday.

EchoStar told retailers Dec. 22 it planned price increases of as much as 9.4% on some tiers, Craig Moffett, senior analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., said in a report last week.

Various price hikes on Dish Network’s different packages will net out to about a 4% increase above 2005 rates, based on the $57.80 monthly fee its average subscriber pays, according to EchoStar spokesman Mark Cicero.

Comcast Corp. and Cablevision Systems Corp. recently announced 2006 average rate increases of 6% and 2.3%, respectively.

EchoStar blamed rising programming costs, up 7% last year, for its need to raise prices to consumers in 2006.

In 2006, the price for Dish Network’s most popular introductory tier, “America’s Top 60,” will increase the most, by $3, to $34.99, according to Moffett. America’s Top 120 and 180 will jump by just $2, or between 3.8% and 4.7%, to $44.99 and $54.99, respectively.

Dish Network also indicated it will unbundle local stations so that subscribers can opt out of the locals for a savings of $5, according to Moffett.