Cox, Mesa Spar Over EAS

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A franchise dispute over a local requirement for an emergency-alert system
for the city of Mesa, Ariz., will apparently be decided in court.

Cox Communications Inc. filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of
Arizona in Phoenix July 23, seeking a declaratory ruling to end the standoff
between the city and its cable company.

The operator argued that Mesa, a Phoenix suburb, has full access to trigger
the federal Emergency Alert System to make notices available to residents of
Maricopa County.

But the city asserted that the current franchise agreement requires Cox to
operate and maintain a local EAS system, which will override all channels,
including digital ones. The federal EAS-compliant system in place now only
broadcasts on analog channels.

The two sides have been attempting to hash out a new 15-year franchise
agreement for many months. The current franchise expired last October.

In addition to the EAS requirement, the parties have been arguing over the
amount the city would like Cox to pay to replace aging media equipment used by
the local public-access corporation.

But the city heightened the tension over the EAS issue earlier this month,
when it formally invoked the franchise requirement. Cox argued that the
requirement was inserted in a document drafted in 1982, before the advent of the
federal EAS system currently in service. Executives added that statistics showed
that a local warning would only reach 30% of the community; the rest are not
watching television or are away from their homes.

Mesa has a second operator in CableAmerica Corp., which is also in the midst
of contract renegotiations. That operator does not have the same EAS issues with
the city, as it selected different technology and can insert EAS warnings on all
channels.

If the companies were to broadcast different messages, it could actually
confuse the community, Cox officials argued.

But council voted July 8 to fine Cox $141,910 for failure to implement a
local system.

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