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Customers shouldn’t notice franchise switch: Charter

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Stacy Vogel
May 22, 2008
— Local Charter Communications customers shouldn’t notice a difference as the cable company transitions from a “city franchise” to a “state franchise,” a Charter official said Wednesday.

The company is dropping its contract with the city to adopt regulations set in a state law late last year.


Supporters of the Video Competition Act, most vocally AT&T, said the law change would lower cable rates and create jobs by allowing multiple cable providers to compete in the same communities. Opponents said it would kill public access stations and allow companies to refuse to offer cable in low-income neighborhoods.


But neither of those things will happen in Janesville, at least in the short-term, said Tim Vowell, Charter director of government relations.


Under the state law, cable companies must continue to fund public access channels at the same levels through January 2011. Janesville’s public access station, JATV, received about $70,000 a year—more than one-third of its budget—in fees from local franchise agreements.


Charter would be allowed, however, to move JATV to any channel it wants and place it in a premium tier as long as 50 percent of Charter customers are in the tier, said Wald Klimczyk, city attorney. Previously, the city required Charter to put JATV in its basic tier.


Charter could move the channel to its basic extended plan, but it doesn’t plan to do so, Vowell said.


After 2011, everything is up in the air for public access. Vowell said Charter hasn’t discussed what it will do with JATV after the sunset clause in the state law ends.


As for service availability, Charter’s last agreement with the city in 2004 required it to offer cable to every existing home and in any future developments with at least 30 homes per “strand mile,” Vowell said. The company plans to continue that practice under the state franchise, he said.


“The industry standard has typically been we extend service wherever there’s a certain number of homes per mile,” he said. “That’s the practice almost everywhere.”


Charter already has installed its infrastructure throughout the city, so it wouldn’t make sense to stop offering cable in certain neighborhoods, Klimczyk said.


That’s not the case for AT&T, which announced plans last month to extend its U-verse TV and Internet service to portions of Rock County. An AT&T spokesman told The Janesville Gazette that U-verse might only be available to portions of Rock County that have AT&T phone service.


The main impact of Charter’s switch will be a loss to the city of what little control it had over cable, Klimczyk said. Residents unhappy with their cable service will now have to go through the state instead of taking their complaints to the city.


“Other than no local control at all—there wasn’t much to begin with—nothing much is changing,” Klimczyk said.



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