Users due rebate if cable case is settled

Local panel, bankrupt Adelphia near accord on franchise issues

Each customer would get about $33

September 04, 2005|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Carroll County cable television customers will get a one-time rebate on their monthly bills - probably about $33 each - if a proposed $1 million settlement between Adelphia Communications Corp. and the Carroll Cable Regulatory Commission goes through, the commission's chairman said.

The county group has been negotiating for years with the now-bankrupt cable company, which is being acquired by Comcast Corp., said Ken Decker, town manager of Hampstead and commission chairman since 2001.

Last year, the commission threatened to go to court over unresolved issues in the franchise agreement.

"We're finalizing the deal now," said Decker, with about 98 percent of the disputed issues resolved and the remaining technical issues not likely to block a resolution.

"There's no question in my mind it's going to get done. They want to get it done; we want to get it done," he said.

In addition to about $1 million to be divided among about 30,000 customers, possibly as soon as next month, the draft settlement would provide about $125,000 a year in operating money for the local Community Media Center. The center would eventually replace the local cable Channel 3, which has moved to Frederick and will be phased out, Decker said.

The eight-member commission includes representatives of the county and seven of its incorporated municipalities (all but Manchester, which had a separate agreement when cable came to the county about 20 years ago).

Seven members voted unanimously about 10 days ago to present and recommend the agreement to the governments for their approval.

Kristy J. Hall has been involved in the negotiations as Adelphia's regional counsel and director of government affairs for the central region, based in Charlottesville, Va. She said she would prefer to wait until the deal is completed before commenting fully.

"From our perspective, we're hopeful that we can reach a settlement and that we can move forward with it. But to my knowledge, nothing's been finalized yet," Hall said.

The settlement must be reviewed by the federal bankruptcy court in New York that is handling the Adelphia case, Decker said.

Adelphia has asked the county to approve its planned transfer to Comcast.

The resolution approved by the cable commission also seeks tax-exempt status for the commission, authorizing it to enter into the legal settlement and to protect the franchise under the proposed transfer to Comcast, Decker said. Comcast has a reputation for tough bargaining, he said.

"We were the first municipality to haggle," Decker said of the long dispute over contract issues and terms of the franchise. "Adelphia came in trying to pit us against the customers, so we negotiated for the customers so they couldn't split us."

Carroll's elected officials plan to sacrifice the revenue "to give something back to the rate-paying customers," Decker said.

He said the decision is an unusual one. Many government officials believe the money from such a settlement should return to the municipal coffers.

"I'm not aware of any other local government that's come to an agreement that would result in a direct rebate to customers," Decker said.

"How often does government work at putting money into people's hands rather than taking it out?"

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