Residents tune out hearings on renewal of cable TV contract

Agreement with Prestige goes to commissioners with no public input

March 30, 2000|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

No residents attended last night the second and final public hearing on a new cable television contract between Carroll County and Prestige Communications of NC Inc., held at Linton Springs Elementary School near Eldersburg.

The proposed agreement would again award the franchise to the Georgia-based cable provider for a 10-year term that could be extended for an additional five years.

Prestige won the first cable franchise in Carroll County in a March 13, 1984, agreement, which has been extended several times during discussions with the Carroll County and Towns Cable TV Committee.

The franchise renewal proposal was reached after 18 months' work by the cable committee, said chairman Patrick F. Flaherty.

"We got as much in the document as we possibly could," he said. "We had a sense that we were paying a price that other communities are paying, so we should be getting similar things."

He attributed the delays to the committee's use of a telecommunications attorney, and its decision to perform a community-needs assessment and a technical audit, for things such as signal quality.

In December, Prestige confirmed its planned acquisition by Adelphia Communications Corp. of Coudersport, Pa., as the Carroll franchise was expiring, he said.

The sale is not expected to affect the renewal.

Prestige serves 30,500 of 41,000 potential residences in Carroll, said Mark Krider, general manager of Prestige Cable TV of Carroll County Inc.

The proposed contract became public this month when it was outlined to county commissioners and mayors. But no residents attended the first public hearing last week at the County Office Building.

"I was shocked that nobody did show up," said Krider.

According to the proposed agreement, the community-needs survey found that renewing with Prestige would serve the public interest.

The 34-page agreement includes provisions that would:

Increase the franchise fee paid by Prestige from 3 percent to 5 percent of gross revenues. Require Prestige to provide a minimum of 77 channels, with 70 to be programmed by December or the date of acceptance, whichever is first.

Require Prestige to produce at least 20 hours a month of local programming.

Require the company to provide five channels for public, educational and governmental use (PEG), with a provision for three more if demand warrants. Prestige also will give $800,000 in one-time grants for the facility and equipment, plus $75,000 a year for operations.

Extend service without cost in unincorporated areas with 20 potential subscribers within a mile of a trunk cable -- and to anyone else willing to pay the cost of construction beyond the first 250 feet.

Possible penalties ranging from $50 to $4,000 a day for violations of the agreement, and of $200 for customer-service standards violations such as failing to keep an appointment, complete repairs, extend service or refund a late fee.

The agreement has nothing to do with cable rates, although these generate the most inquiries, said Flaherty, the committee chairman and the television-production specialist for the county school system.

The cable committee members' feeling was, he said, "We can't regulate the rates, but can we get something from the cable company that will benefit the community?"

Prestige announced a $2.50 increase in customers' bills last month, attributed to increased programming costs such as ESPN, Home Team Sports, CNN and others. Krider said costs for these channels have increased 37 percent in two years.

The proposed agreement goes to the county commissioners and town councils for approval.

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