Fines sought against cable firm

March 17, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Howard County cable television administrator James W. O'Connor and the Cable Television Advisory Committee want the the County Council to severely punish Mid-Atlantic Cable Co.

The company, which serves western Howard County, has asked the council for permission to miss another construction deadline without penalty. Mr. O'Connor told the council Monday night that he wants the company fined $300 a day until the deadline is met.

"I strongly recommend that the council not approve this modification" in the franchise agreement. "If this modification is approved, it should be accompanied by a firm resolve that no further violations of the franchise agreement will be tolerated."

This is the third time the company has asked the council for an extension of the deadlines established in its 1988 franchise agreement.

The agreement originally called for Mid-Atlantic to provide cable television service to 71 western Howard County subdivisions by July 1990.

The company now wants an extension until Sept. 30 to complete construction and a delay until Dec. 31 to install a delivery system that would carry government, education and public access channels.

When the company was unable to meet its initial construction deadline, the council extended it to December 1990. That deadline was later extended to Dec. 31, 1992.

After that deadline was missed, Mr. O'Connor sent the company a letter saying the company would be fined $300 a day beginning Feb. 1 for each day the work was not completed. If the council again extends the deadline, Mid-Atlantic would not be in violation and no fine would be owed. The fines, if upheld by the council, will have totaled $13,200 through yesterday.

John C. Norcutt, Mid-Atlantic's general partner, told the council Monday that if the fines are imposed, he would have to default on his loan or pass the cost to subscribers.

Mr. Norcutt told the council he lost $400,000 the first year he operated the franchise and $1 million last year. He said he expects to suffer losses three more years before turning a profit.

Fines will only add to his financial burden and will not help the company meet construction deadlines, he said. "There is no other money," he said. "All the equity we have is going into construction."

Mr. Norcutt said that he has personally guaranteed the company's loan and that there is no greater incentive to finish construction as soon as possible than that.

Nellie Arrington, vice chairwoman of the Cable Advisory Committee, told the council her committee has heard those arguments before and rejected them.

"Mid-Atlantic has a very poor track record in its management's ability to estimate whether deadlines will be met," she said. "If you let Mid-Atlantic's extension for completion slide through, then we will not be able to oversee Mid-Atlantic, Howard Cable or any other cable operator effectively."

Mr. Norcutt said the delays were unavoidable.

The council will hold a work session Monday night on Mid-Atlantic's request and will vote on it April 7.

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