WI: Charter's New Franchise Could Jeopardize City-Run Channels

Posted on May 22, 2008 - 5:51am.

from: Channel 3000

Charter's New Franchise Could Jeopardize City-Run Channels
Charter Terminates Financial Agreement With Municipalities

POSTED: 7:54 pm CDT May 21, 2008
UPDATED: 10:32 pm CDT May 21, 2008

MADISON, Wis. -- The future of city-run cable channels is in question after Charter Communications pulled its cable franchise agreements with municipalities across the state.

Charter said competition is behind the move. But that competition could soon create a financial strain on what many call a basic city service.

The franchise termination is in response to the "Cable TV Competition Bill," which now allows cable companies to end franchise agreements with local municipalities and instead agree to a statewide franchise.

But many said the legislation, and Charter's decision to end its local franchise agreements, jeopardizes customer service and the fate of city-run cable channels.

"We've been on cable channel 12 since 1974," said Brad Clark, Madison City Channel's station manager. "So all that time, people know if they want to watch the Common Council meeting, (it's on) cable 12."

It's just one thing that could soon change. But for Clark and his crew at the city-run channel, it's the least of their worries.

Under a new law, Charter has terminated its franchise agreement with the city of Madison -- and other municipalities across the state. Charter has opted for a statewide franchise agreement.

The change could move Channel 12 to another channel -- and dramatically affect funding.

"Charter no longer has to have a local presence in our community, and the city really has no more authority or no more say in Charter's operations," Clark said.

"The decision driving why we opted to transition to a state franchise is so that we can operate on the same terms and conditions as our competitors," Charter spokesman Tim Vowell said. "AT&T, for example, has filed for a state franchise and been certified in hundreds of communities, including Madison and Janesville."

It comes down to competition, which was the intent of the cable TV bill. But it could also affect funding. Currently, Charter customers in Madison pay 63 cents a month, which funds half of Channel 12's annual budget. That money goes away in three years, leaving questions about funding -- not only in Madison but also in communities across the state.

"There are going to be some channels that are going to go under, there's no question about it," Clark said. "We've seen that in other states around the country, where similar legislation has passed. Community channels have gone under."

Clark said that in the three-year window before the funding is eliminated, he is hoping that supporters statewide urge legislators to pass remedial legislation to keep that money coming in.

The move to end the local cable franchise will also have an effect on customer service. With the franchise agreement gone, the city of Madison no longer has any regulatory power to help residents with disputes or complaints with Charter.

The only option now is to use Charter's 800-number or to contact the State Department of Financial Institutions. The city said that either method is not ideal for consumers.

( categories: WISCONSIN )