Cablevision Systems Corp. has scored a victory in
Brunswick, Ohio, after an independent examiner ruled that the city was making
unjustifiable demands when it tried to deny the MSO a franchise renewal.
In a scathing decision, the examiner two weeks ago
recommended that Cablevision's franchise be renewed because local officials had not
considered the costs of their demands or the public's unwillingness to pay for the
required new services.
It was not immediately clear whether city officials will
abide by the ruling, however, leaving plans for an upgrade of the local system up in the
Calls to Brunswick officials requesting comment were not
Cablevision's renewal was preliminarily denied last year,
after it balked at the city's demands, which, it said, would have cost $5 million and
added as much as $5 to monthly cable bills for 10,000 subscribers in Brunswick and
The communities were demanding that Cablevision build and
operate a new PEG-access (public, educational and government) studio in Brunswick, along
with more equipment, additional PEG channels and an institutional network (I-net).
Cablevision responded with a proposal calling for a $6.1
million upgrade, 15 additional channels requested by subscribers, a two-way I-net and
enhancements to three PEG-access channels.
"Our research showed that the communities didn't care
about more PEG access, and that they certainly weren't willing to pay for it. And we were
able to prove that," said Carol Caruso, Cablevision vice president of public and
The examiner agreed, noting that there was "no sound
basis for the [local franchising] authority's optimistic anticipation of community
interest in a local production facility," and no proof that "the community is
willing to pay for more locally produced programming."
The examiner found that while federal law requires that
cities consider the costs of their demands, Brunswick's presentation contained "no
cost-factor analysis," and attempts to explain the deficiency were "woefully
As a basis for its denial of Cablevision's franchise
renewal, the city cited several alleged violations of the company's existing deal with
However, the examiner's report found that the city had
failed to notify the company of the alleged violations, thereby denying the operator an
opportunity to remedy the grievances.
"Thus," the examiner wrote, "the breaches
cited by the authority cannot serve as the basis for denial of renewal under the
requirements of the Federal Cable Act."
Caruso said the decision should send a message to local
governments that are thinking about trotting out the "community's needs"
argument when it comes times to renew their local cable franchises.
"While we support each community's needs, this
demonstrates that they must be well-reasoned, well-documented and take into account the
cost of providing those needs," she added.