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12-22-04 Rockford council evicts Time Warner

By Timothy Cox

  ROCKFORD -- Village council members voted unanimously to evict Time Warner Cable from a small parcel the cable giant leases at Shanes Park for a signal head site that serves Rockford, Mendon and Willshire.

  Council members left the door open for further negotiations after rejecting a proposal that would have more than tripled the annual rent Time Warner pays to the village to $1,000. But a Time Warner representative at Tuesday's meeting said he could not speculate whether the company would be willing to negotiate further, and could not guarantee the service area won't see interruptions if the company has to relocate its equipment.
  The equipment located at the site provides cable television, high-speed Internet and telephone service to customers in Rockford, Mendon and Willshire.
  If Time Warner engineers "start the ball rolling" on moving the signal head site, the company likely would not revisit further negotiations, said Brian Young, Time Warner's director of government affairs for western Ohio.
  Despite their eviction vote, council members said they want to talk more about the lease.  "The hub ain't going nowhere," council member Keith Rutledge said. When reminded that council just moments earlier had voted to evict Time Warner, Rutledge said, "In theory, yes. That remains to be seen."
  Rutledge suspects the company now will counter with a more favorable offer rather than go to the expense of moving the signal head equipment. Others weren't so sure.
  Mendon officials have expressed an interest in talking with Time Warner representatives, especially if it would help avoid service interruptions.
  When pressed by The Daily Standard following the meeting about whether the company would continue to negotiate, Young was non-committal. He said he would present Rockford's decision to company executives who will decide how to proceed.
  "Our primary goal will be to not disrupt service," Young said.
  Tuesday's vote actually marked the second time Rockford council members have voted to invoke their right to end the current lease with a 120-day notice. That action had one caveat: that the 120-day notice would only be authorized if Time Warner failed to negotiate in good faith. The latest vote apparently backs up the original decision.
  Solicitor Judy Koesters was asked to inform the company in writing of the notice, beginning today, even though Young witnessed the action. The 120-day window actually extends beyond the April 2005 expiration of the lease.
  There remains some hope negotiations could be salvaged as they are now handed off to Koesters, who will bargain privately with Time Warner executives. She then will present any new offers to council members. The move was made at Young's urging.
"This is a very unusual circumstance for us to be negotiating with council," in a public setting, Young said. Negotiations typically are handled by the mayor, administrator or attorney, he said.
  Council members remain unhappy with the proposed $1,000 annual lease amount and with the proposed 20-year term. Young said Time Warner typically pays $300-$500 annually for similar leases of public land. Twenty years also is the norm, he said.
  "We need assurances in the communications industry that we have a secure site," Young said.
  Separate negotiations on renewal of Time Warner's franchise operating agreement with the town were discussed but no action was taken.


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