Steeply rising cable TV rates worry lawmakers, but they're not ready to support legislation that would stop the scheduled deregulation of cable prices.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, was exploring options at a hearing Tuesday to protect the nation's 67 million cable customers from being gouged when price controls expire on March 31, 1999.Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., stopped by the hearing and emphasized that Congress won't sit idly while rates soar. "If we go through a series of situations where these rates continue to go up by double-digit percentages, people are not going to stand for it and neither are we."

He offered no specifics but said Congress would explore all options.

McCain said he is most interested in encouraging more competition to cable to keep prices in check. For now, McCain doesn't plan to offer legislation that would let the Federal Communications Commission continue regulating rates after March 31.