Franchise Trouble Tales in Two Cities

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Two cities — one in New York and another in Florida — are fed up with cable complaints and have threatened their operators with punishments ranging from fines to revocation.

In the words of one official from the Long Island town of Riverhead, N.Y., the gauntlet has been thrown down at Cablevision Systems Corp.'s local executives.

Actually, there is no dispute. "We're right and they're wrong," joked town supervisor Robert Kozakiewicz.

Town officials are especially annoyed that Cablevision eliminated a senior-citizen discount it once offered.

"That's the biggest source of ill will," the supervisor said. Officials have requested a senior discount of no less than 15 percent from basic-cable service.

The operator was also ordered to provide financial information regarding revenues from cable, modem and telephone service.

Officials also took note of a trigger clause in Cablevision's franchise, requiring the operator to launch a second access channel once the first slot is fully programmed. Access producers have complained that town council meetings run so long, there's not enough time for other content.

MODEM SERVICE LAUDED

There are some differences of opinion on Cablevision's service, Kozakiewicz noted. While the access producers are its most vocal critics, another segment of the community is worried that ultimatums to the operator might result in the loss of consumers' Optimum Online cable-modem service.

Those customers consider the product "a godsend" and defend the operator, the supervisor said.

The city passed a resolution in December that demands Cablevision resolve these issues by March 27. Whatever Cablevision's response, no action will be taken until the next town council meeting on April 2, he said.

Cablevision spokesman Bill Powers said the MSO has provided Riverhead with the required financials and has opened a second channel for educational and government use.

But the senior discount issue? "That's best resolved in ongoing discussions with the town. It's part of the talks," he said.

Down south, the Port St. Lucie, Fla., city council is dealing with a different set of consumer complaints against Adelphia Communications Corp.

Adelphia operates in the town under the terms of a license, not a franchise. The company is in the second year of a 15-year license, according to city manager Don Cooper.

The city has recorded 74 complaints since Jan. 22. Most of those gripes are service-related, "about the way they treat people, service interruptions, trespassing, working after hours," he said. "One complaint said the company was at work at 3 a.m."

The city asserts Adelphia has not maintained proper insurance, and that subcontractors have worked without proper municipal permits.

Most of the complaints are related to the upgrade. Adelphia's reputation in the area was "average" before the rebuild was launched, Cooper noted.

The city will give Adelphia 30 days to cure the problems, but if that time passes with no resolution, it said it will take a range of possible punitive actions, from fines to revocation.

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