Cable franchise agreement comes down to the wire

By Gus Bode

Tuesday is crunch time for the Carbondale City Council.

Carbondale’s current cable television franchise agreement with Mediacom expires at midnight tonight, and the council will have to decide on an ordinance to sign a new contract at tonight’s meeting.

Carbondale City Manager Jeff Doherty said if the deadline passes without a new agreement, cable operations would continue under the current franchise agreement until a new contract can be approved. He said there would be no penalties for failing to approve the ordinance.

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The city is at the tail end of a 15-year contract that has passed through a number of different companies and finally ended with Mediacom. The city manager’s office has worked with Mediacom representatives throughout the negotiation process, and the Information and Telecommunications Commission has given its input on the contract since April.

Doherty said revisions recommended by the commission members late last week have been added into the contract, and the final draft of the agreement is in the hands of the City Council.

The majority of the negotiations have centered around adding a Public, Education and Government access channel in addition to channel 16, which the city currently uses to broadcast public meetings and information. The new agreement would allow the city to require Mediacom to offer an extra channel once the city has the infrastructure in place. The new channel could be used by individuals and organizations for public interest and not-for-profit programming.

The new access channel would not be mandatory but would have to be made available within 90 days after the city notifies Mediacom that it has a not-for-profit organization in place to operate the channel.

Under the terms of the agreement, Mediacom would provide $15,000 at the beginning of the new agreement to pay for equipment upgrades for channel 16. If and when the second public access channel is operational, Mediacom would provide a $30,000 contribution the first year and $10,000 each of the following three years, totaling $60,000.

The Cable Act allows Mediacom to recover its capital expenditures that are not used for normal operating procedures. The company would add approximately $0.21 to subscriber’s monthly bills the first year to recover the initial $15,000 contribution and for the four years following the addition of a second channel to recover the $60,000 contribution.

At the Oct. 18 Information and Telecommunications Commission meeting, commissioners recommended that the City Council extend the current agreement by one year because they believed $60,000 was not an adequate contribution.

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The new franchise agreement would also last only seven years, as the city and Mediacom mutually agreed to that amount of time. Uncertain of future federal regulations and technology, a seven-year term was found to be the most beneficial and protective for the city.

Brandon Augsburg can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 262 or [email protected]

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