Screen Remains Blank On What To Do With Cable

October 20, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — Don't tune in any time soon for a decision on what Carroll's towns are about to do with their unused cable television stations.

In fact, changing the channel for at least another year would seem a betterway to spend the time, as municipal leaders last week remained as firmly undecided on a nearly 2-year-old collection of proposals by Prestige Cable TV of Maryland Inc. and the county's public access channel.

"It's not exactly like it will be done next week or anything likethat," said John A. Riley, town manager of Hampstead and a member ofthe county's Cable Television Committee, which runs Carroll Community Television and oversees the non-exclusive franchise agreement with Prestige. "The mayors still have to take a look at this."

The proposals are somewhat complicated, but at a meeting of the Carroll chapter of the Maryland Municipal League here Thursday night, representatives from Prestige and the county tried to explain them.

The Prestige proposal calls for an extension of the company's franchise to 2010, a 67 percent boost in the fees paid to the county and the towns forthe franchise and a continuation of the $60,000 a year paid to fund community television.

What the company wants is the use of five of10 unused public-access channels owned by the towns. The channels would be used, said Prestige President Grady Ireland, for channels suchas American Movie Classics, pay-per-view or for broadcasting the 1992 Olympics.

The boost in the franchise fees -- from 3 percent of the company's $8.8 million annual revenues to 5 percent of the revenues -- would mean an additional $176,000 to be shared by the county andthe seven towns served by Prestige. Manchester's 900 cable subscribers are served by Frederick Cablevision Inc.

Community Television -- cable Channel 55 -- is funded by a $500,000 endowment and by the $60,000 annual grant from Prestige. The channel is asking for a cut of any additional franchise fees paid the towns and county.

The proposals have vexed the mayors and councils of the seven towns for most of 1990 and 1991.

Some are wary that the increase in franchise feescould be used as justification by Prestige for a rate increase. Ireland said Thursday night to the 80 or so municipal officials at the Westminster Volunteer Fire Co. that the company already is thinking about breaking out the cost of the franchise fees on its monthly bills.

Ireland also told the officials to expect a "rate adjustment" in March. The company's annual rate increases usually are announced in March.

Other mayors are just naturally skeptical of any offer of anything from a cable company.

"If the cable company says they are going to give you anything, you tend to get a little leery before you check it out," Riley said.

Mayor Lloyd R. Helt Jr. of Sykesville says there should be no hurry to cut deals with Prestige or Community Television.

"We're all slushing around this, and we need to realizewhat this means to our constituents and to see what will work," he said.

He recommended putting together a three-member negotiating team representing the county and the towns to hammer out an agreement. He also recommended waiting until Congress fine-tunes cable company regulations.

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