Published on Save Access (

FL: City Weighs Cable Company Lawsuit

By saveaccess
Created 10/22/2007 - 9:17pm

from: Tampa Tribune [1]

City Weighs Cable Company Lawsuit

October 19, 2007
By Ellen Gedalius

The city is laying the groundwork to sue Bright House Networks, the latest attempt by area governments to keep public access, education and government channels at their existing spots on the television lineup.

On Thursday, City Attorney David Smith told the city council that Mayor Pam Iorio shares the council’s concerns about the cable company’s plans to relocate the channels. St. Petersburg and Manatee County are considering suing Bright House, and Smith said he would talk with officials in those areas to see whether Tampa should join any potential suit.

“It looks like there’s the prospect of litigation,” Smith said.

If Tampa pursues legal action on its own, hiring outside counsel to do the legal footwork might be necessary, Smith said, because federal cable regulations are somewhat “esoteric.”

At issue is Bright House’s plan to rearrange its cable TV lineup so a viewer in Hernando County, for example, will have the same lineup as a viewer in Hillsborough County. As part of the plan, public, education and governmental channels will move.

Bright House officials have said those channels will remain on the basic tier, but those who do not have digital cable service will have to pay $1 a month for a box that provides those channels, if customers want them.

Smith says, however, that federal law requires cable networks to place the channels on the lowest tier available.

City officials also say the move would cut down on viewership because the channels would be in a less noticeable location on the lineup, and because some people would not want to pay the extra money.

Councilman John Dingfelder made the motion at council on Thursday to urge Iorio to take any appropriate legal action that could help resolve the problem.

“It is unfair to the poor,” Dingfelder said. “It is extremely unfair to the community, period. This is not an ego thing. It’s about connecting our community through this channel.”

The community spends a lot of money paying Bright House for cable service, council Chairwoman Gwen Miller said.

Although a Bright House representative was not at the meeting when the council talked about the issue, Miller directed remarks at the company: “I just send this plea out: Don’t change it.”

Bright House’s attorney, Steve Anderson, said the company is confident its actions are legal.

“We hate to see the city spend resources on a lawsuit, but that’s their business, just like it’s our business to keep our customers happy,” Anderson said.

The channels at issue air city council, county commission and school board meetings, as well as segments featuring government initiatives.

They also air education shows that offer homework help to Hillsborough’s students.

Public access channels allow community members to create their own shows.

Bright House plans to make the changes Dec. 11.

In other action, the council:

•Unanimously approved a measure to increase building permit fees by 10 percent for residential projects and 75 percent for commercial projects.

•Gave preliminary approval to changes in the sign code to allow electronic copy on signs to change every five minutes. Previous rules allowed changes once every 24 hours.

Source URL: