Policy

Shift in Power in L.A.

5/20/2004 7:24 AM Eastern

The Los Angeles City Council has amended city policy to allow the council to take the lead on refranchising negotiations, minimizing the role of the mayor-appointed Board of Information Technology Commissioners.

The council action must be affirmed by Mayor James Hahn, who is expected to do so.

The commissioners vocally opposed the change, noting that the cable board is in place so that the city will have an informed oversight board that can advise the council members on the intricacies of cable law. The current body is particularly well-suited for that role: All of the commissioners are lawyers in their private lives.

But the city’s 14 cable franchises -- held by Comcast Corp., Adelphia Communications Corp., Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications Inc. and Charter Communications Inc. -- all expire in August.

City councilmembers have expressed dismay over the slow pace of negotiations. The operators are currently operating under contract extensions and are still in the informal contract window.

When the council signaled its intent in January to change the franchising rules, the then-chairman of the cable board, Henry Gradstein, resigned in protest. The council’s action would relegate the commission to meaningless tasks, he indicated.

With the change, the BITC will still have a limited time during which to review the council’s refranchising agreements.

Operators have been reluctant to comment on the power shift at the city, noting that they will negotiate with any entity the city designates.

The change in city policy extends beyond cable issues, giving the council more say in the negotiation of other municipal franchises. The BITC is expected to discuss the council action at its meeting Friday.