Council delays vote on Harbor cable franchise

TCI official raises concerns about unfair competition

November 16, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

The City Council delayed action last night on a bill to create a cable franchise that would provide services in the Inner Harbor area, after Baltimore's primary cable provider raised concerns about competition.

Flight Systems Cablevision asked the council for a cable franchise that would bring Internet and other data services through expanded cable lines to the Inner Harbor. But the legislation lacked support from the majority of council members, so Council President Lawrence A. Bell III postponed action on the bill.

Coles B. Ruff Jr., director of government relations for TCI Communications of Baltimore, the city's primary cable provider, said his company objected to the bill because TCI could not compete for the same business.

TCI's contract with the city requires the cable company to provide uniform service throughout the city and not something different in a limited area, Ruff said.

So TCI could not compete with Flight Systems to provide the expanded cable service to only the Inner Harbor area.

Ruff said that it would cost about $75 million to upgrade the city's cable system and acknowledged that Flight Systems probably could not afford such an undertaking. But Ruff said he believes all competing cable companies should operate under the same guidelines.

"We support the idea of competition," Ruff said. "We just think that [companies] should be on parity. Our contract precludes us from being able to offer those services in one area."

In other business, the council passed a resolution endorsing the Neighborhood Congress, a grass-roots political organization formed this year to present a unified voice from residents.

"We're working in partnership with the City Council to make the city great again," said Odette Ramos, a founder of the group.

The council is providing a liaison to the congress to ensure that the group's concerns are relayed to city leaders.

Mayor-elect Martin O'Malley has named 10 members of the Neighborhood Congress to committees on his transition team.

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