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11-15-05 Concern about cable TV deal

By Tim Cox

  Celina city officials raised concerns Monday about language in a proposed cable television franchise renewal contract that some believe could render portions of a city cable customer service standards ordinance useless.

  Council member Rick Bachelor pointed out numerous discrepancies between the franchise renewal and the customer service standards. With a clause in the franchise agreement stating that it supersedes any other city ordinances concerning cable, Bachelor said approval of the agreement would essentially repeal portions of the standards that were put in place to protect local cable customers.

  The franchise renewal has been five years in the making. The former agreement with FrontierVision expired long ago and negotiations have proceeded off and on for the past few years. Adelphia Communications, which acquired FrontierVision, is now bankrupt and in the midst of a sale to Time Warner.

  The franchise agreement simply allows the cable operator to use existing rights-of-way for its conduit. The contract does not have anything to do with cable rates or channel selection.

  Bachelor noted discrepancies between the franchise agreement and the city's customer service standards, including issues involving parental control devices, credit for service outages and the calculation of time for response to repair and maintenance requests.  "We are trumping or repealing our customer service standards that were set by ordinance," Bachelor said.

  Council had intended to pass the franchise renewal ordinance as an emergency, but Bachelor refused to go along with the plan and Councilman Collin Bryan was absent, leaving too few votes to approve an emergency measure.

  Assistant Law Director Angela Nickell said city officials can continue negotiations with Adelphia on outstanding issues. Adelphia representative Crystal Gilliam agreed that the already drawn-out negotiations could continue.

  But Gilliam also tried to downplay the city's customer service standards.

  "The FCC has strict customer service standards," she said, noting that 90 percent of complaints to Adelphia are resolved within 24 hours. Time Warner has an even better customer service record, she said.

  The franchise contract is not all bad, some officials noted. It calls for a $50,000 payment to the city to be used for video equipment for taping and airing city council meetings and other community events.

  In a separate but related issue, council members passed an emergency ordinance authorizing the transfer of Adelphia to Time Warner. City officials had no legal standing to try to block the transfer, Nickell said.

  Time Warner's acquisition of bankrupt Adelphia is expected to be completed sometime early next year.


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