Prestige Cable TV to raise rates April 15 Talks continue on franchise extension

March 12, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The Georgia-based cable television company that serves Carroll and seven of its municipalities will raise its rates April 15, members of the County and Towns Cable TV Committee learned yesterday.

Rates for Prestige Cable TV's basic service -- 22 over-the-air channels -- will increase 31-cents to $12 a month.

Rates for the company's expanded service -- 27 channels, including specialty items such as Home Team Sports, the Discovery Channel and the ESPN sports network channels -- will rise $1.19 to $16.45 a month.

Meanwhile, the committee and Prestige Cable continue to bicker over renewal of a 15-year franchise agreement that expires in December 1999.

The current agreement that the county and all the municipalities except Manchester have with Prestige stipulates that the company must make its system state of the art before the expiration date.

The county wants Prestige to provide more than the $13 million worth of improvements the company is offering to make. The company has proposed expanding from 61 to 78 channels, but the county wants a 110-channel system.

County officials also want the company to provide an "institutional network" linking government buildings, schools, libraries and the community college to the cable system.

Bill Bethune, the company's local general manager, tried without success yesterday to find out where committee members stand on these issues.

"We're ready to upgrade" the cable service provided the county, Bethune told the committee. "How far apart are we?"

"I don't think we're going to talk about that [publicly] today, Bill," Maggy MacPherson, county communication and information services administrator, told Bethune.

Bethune questioned why gas, electric and phone utilities that share the rights of way with the cable company do not pay franchise fees. They are deemed "essential services," MacPherson replied.

If other utilities eventually begin providing video services, "it's a whole different ball of wax," said Patrick F. Flaherty, cable committee chairman. They too would be subject to franchise fees, he said.

Telecommunications administrator Doris White told the committee that she had met twice with Bethune last week "to narrow down how far apart we are."

The two agreed on 10 of the 16 provisions in the proposed agreement, leaving the committee to address only six rather than 16 in the executive session yesterday, White told the committee. "We're closer than we were before," she said.

But still too far apart and with too many unknowns to suit Bethune.

"We've been doing this for a year and a half, and we ain't getting anywhere," he said. "Any idea when we'll have something to recommend" to the County Commissioners and seven mayors for their approval? "The issue [still unresolved] is institutional network."

MacPherson told Bethune he would probably know within the next two weeks the committee's decision about the remaining six provisions in the franchise agreement.

The county and the cable company began having differences shortly after the franchise agreement was signed in December 1984. The county sued the company 27 months later, charging failure to meet its obligations. The $325,000 suit was settled out of court.

Before going into executive session to discuss the agreement yesterday, the cable committee approved a $125,433 budget for community access -- a 3 percent increase over the previous year.

Nearly half of the money -- $60,000 -- is to come from franchise fees paid by Prestige.

Pub Date: 3/12/97

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