Mayor, council president offer different cable plans

June 09, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Eric Siegel | JoAnna Daemmrich and Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writers

Capping a tumultuous week of efforts to break the cable monopoly in Baltimore, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke offered separate strategies yesterday.

Mrs. Clarke introduced a generic ordinance for a second cable franchise that leaves the choice up to the Board of Estimates, the city's financial review panel.

Her action -- which frustrated the plans of an upstart cable television company -- came hours after the mayor announced a different process for competitors to challenge United Artists Cable's stronghold.

Mr. Schmoke said he was backing a proposal that any company seeking a cable franchise in the city pay a nonrefundable $25,000 fee and complete a detailed request for technical and financial information. Under that plan, the city's cable office would make a recommendation to the Board of Estimates, and only then would a council ordinance for land-use rights be introduced.

The mayor said his proposal made the efforts by Mrs. Clarke, his rival for a third term, superfluous.

But Mrs. Clarke, while saying that her ordinance should dovetail with the mayor's plan, said it was needed now to set into motion the review and evaluation to get another cable company by the end of the year. "I am persuaded that there might be other people out there that might want to compete for a second franchise," she said.

The council also introduced a zoning change to allow the Johns Hopkins University to develop a satellite campus at the abandoned Eastern High School and gave final approval to a bill setting up a preschool immunization registry.

City Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson pushed for the registry in an attempt to track how many children get shots for diseases such as measles, mumps and whooping cough before entering school.

The bill, which would have to be signed into law by the mayor, would require all pediatricians and health clinics to notify the city within 14 days after administering immunizations to children under age 5.

The activity of the council and mayor on the cable front yesterday left Gary I. Goldberg, founder of UltraVision LLC, dissatisfied.

UltraVision, which supplies private cable services to about 700 subscribers in Baltimore, is seeking the first franchise since the city awarded a nonexclusive agreement in 1984 to United Artists Cable of Baltimore, now part of Tele-Communications Inc. Mrs. Clarke had offered to introduce a franchise agreement for Mr. Goldberg's company. But she had second thoughts two days ago and abruptly dropped the proposal.

Mr. Goldberg also was concerned about the process described by the mayor yesterday, which would give companies up to 30 days to submit financial and technical information to the cable office for review. If he pays the $25,000 fee, Mr. Goldberg said, he wants assurances that "someone else wouldn't come in at the 11th hour and usurp us."

Mr. Schmoke acknowledged the fee was "fairly expensive" but said it was needed to offset the city's cost of review. "This is an extremely time-consuming and labor intensive process," he said at his weekly news briefing.

Another local private cable operator said that although there were "some benefits" to the proposal by the city's cable office, he preferred a more traditional bidding process.

"Closer scrutiny would be a smarter move than rushing a proposal through," said Walter K. Frazier, vice president and director of operations of Stansbury/Decker Systems Specialists, which has 10,000 subscribers in Maryland.

The company also is interested in a city franchise, but has yet to submit a proposal as Mr. Goldberg did.

Mr. Goldberg has proposed investing $36 million to lay cables and begin offering service across the city.

rTC

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