With cable TV snag, Annapolis officials to seek bids

March 24, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

After talking more than a year with TCI Cablevision and still reaching no firm agreement, Annapolis officials say they plan to solicit proposals from other cable television companies.

"We're going to invite any other company to put a bid in," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden, chairman of the City Council's Economic Matters Committee.

TCI General Manager William J. Forest said he believes the city and cable company can overcome their differences.

"I don't see anything that is stopping us from working it out," he said.

Mr. Forest surprised council members at a Feb. 28 public hearing when he said a proposed contract was unacceptable. Council members had called the hearing to discuss what they thought was an agreement on the contract. Mr. Snowden's committee will meet with TCI officials at 6 p.m. today to discuss unresolved issues.

"The question is, where do we go from here?" said Mr. Snowden, a Democrat from the city's Ward 5.

Although the meeting will focus on the TCI contract, Mr. Snowden said other companies would be considered.

"It shouldn't be automatically assumed that TCI will get the cable franchise," he said.

City Attorney Paul Goetzke said two cable companies -- Jones Intercable Inc. and a Northern Virginia company -- have expressed an interest in serving the city.

Ben Painter, marketing manager with Jones Intercable, said his company was waiting to see whether Annapolis reaches an agreement with TCI.

"We couldn't consider anything until they do or don't work out something with TCI," he said.

Mr. Painter also said Jones Intercable is not interested in becoming a second cable provider in Annapolis, but would have to consider its options if the city asks other cable companies to submit bids. Jones Intercable is based in Gambrills and has 46,000 subscribers in Anne Arundel County.

TCI has provided cable television to Annapolis since January 1992, when it acquired the franchise from United Artists Cable.

The contract under review would give TCI a non-exclusive franchise 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. A second public access channel would be added after July 1, 1995.

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

At last month's hearing, Mr. Forest objected to a number of elements in the 19-page contract and said he didn't know about a provision outlining performance requirements for the cable company.

The council has agreed to extend the contract with TCI until a new agreement is reached.

The contract was to have expired next month.

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