Cable franchise agreement falls apart at hearing

March 01, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

After more than a year of negotiations, Annapolis officials thought they had reached a franchise agreement with TCI Cablevision.

But when the agreement was presented at a public hearing last night, the cable company's representative surprised city officials by telling them that the document was incomplete and unsatisfactory.

The representative, William J. Forest, said the document did not reflect the latest changes his company had agreed to at a December meeting.

"As far as I'm concerned, we were still in a negotiation process," Mr. Forest said. Mr. Forest objected to a number of provisions in the 19-page document and said he was completely unaware of TC provision that outlines performance requirements for the cable company.

His objections prompted an indignant City Attorney Paul Goetzke to accuse TCI of failing to let him know that the company did not approve of parts of the agreement.

"The person responsible for making the changes was not the City of Annapolis but your office," Mr. Goetzke said, adding that Mr. Forest had the document for five days before the public hearing.

"Your approach somewhat surprises me," Mr. Goetzke said.

Mr. Forest's objections contrasted to statements by made Mark Tauber, a lawyer hired by the city to negotiate the franchise agreement. In remarks about the

agreement last night, Mr. Tauber called it "a step above the informal and letter agreements the city has been operating on these past few years."

The agreement would give a non-exclusive franchise to TCI Cablevision for 15 years. Among the changes from the current agreement are provisions to encourage public access channels. Initially, the city would receive one channel three days a week, but after July 1, 1995, a second public access channel would be added.

TCI would also pay a total of $250,000 to the city to help build a studio and launch public access programming. The city also would receive 5 percent of TCI's gross revenue from subscribers.

Mr. Tauber seemed at a loss to explain TCI's reluctance to go ahead with the agreement. "We came to closure on terms. It was only subject to working out the language," he said.

Alderman Theresa DeGraff, a Ward 7 Republican, questioned whether time should be spent holding a public hearing on the document at all.

"This needs a lot of work," agreed Alderman Samuel Gilmer, a Ward 3 Democrat.

Mr. Gilmer complained about the company's lack of customer service in the past.

"When you're down, you just close up shop so nobody bothers you," he said.

The document is likely to go back to the council's Economic Matters Committee for further deliberation.

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