Council to discuss cable company's woes

March 22, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

The County Council will try to decide tonight what to do about Mid-Atlantic Cable Co.'s inability to meet its deadlines.

The company, which serves western Howard County, wants the council to again extend the deadlines established in its 1988 franchise agreement.

The county's Cable Television Advisory Committee and Cable Administrator James W. O'Connor want the council to severely punish Mid-Atlantic by either revoking its franchise or fining it $300 a day.

Whatever the council decides, the vote will not come officially until Wednesday, April 7, the council's next legislative session.

One of the first things the council will have to decide at tonight's 8 o'clock work session is whether the construction delays are willful or due to circumstances beyond the company's control.

Nellie Arrington, vice chairwoman of the Cable Advisory Committee, came very close last week to saying the delays are willful.

"Mid-Atlantic has a very poor track record in its management's ability to estimate whether deadlines will be met," she told the council at a public hearing on Mid-Atlantic's request. "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."

John C. Norcutt, Mid-Atlantic's general partner, told the council the problem is money -- or lack of it. He said he is trying to offer more for less money than Howard Cable, but the logistics of providing cable service to sparsely populated areas has proved inordinately expensive.

Mr. Norcutt told the council his company is working as fast as it can, given its limited resources. He said he lost $400,000 the first year he operated the franchise and $1 million last year.

He said he expects to incur losses for three more years before turning a profit.

Fines will add to his financial burden and will not help the company meet construction deadlines, he said, adding that he has not received service complaints from any of Mid-Atlantic's nearly 3,000 subscribers.

Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said she had not received complaints either. She directed Mr. O'Connor to bring whatever evidence of complaints he has to tonight's work session.

Mr. Norcutt disputed the cable committee's allegations that he violated the franchise agreement by bringing cable to the Far Side and Chase neighborhoods before providing service to subdivisions named in the franchise agreement.

"What we have here is a communication problem," he told the council. He said he served Far Side and Chase last year because Mr. O'Connor and the cable advisory committee had chastised him for not bringing cable to those neighborhoods earlier.

He said Mr. O'Connor and the committee earlier insisted that those neighborhoods were included in the original franchise agreement.

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