Officials in Wellman, Iowa, a rural community of 1,125
residents, will meet again today (Sept. 13) to try to determine the fate of Triax
Telecommunications Co. L.L.C.'s local franchise.
A divided City Council will have to decide between
accepting Triax's 10-year renewal proposal or trying to enforce a clause in the
MSO's expired franchise that gives Wellman the right of first refusal to acquire the
Another option is approving a transfer to Mediacom LLC, a
Middletown, N.Y.-based operator, which is in the process of acquiring Triax's
operations in seven states for $740 million.
Sources indicated that city could buy the system and
operate it as a municipal utility or sell it to Wellman Cooperative Telephone Co., a small
local-exchange carrier that is interested in the local video market.
WCTC has been talking with the city about a cable franchise
since 1998. According to the Iowa Telephone Association, about 70 percent of the
state's 153 independent and rural co-ops are currently offering video services to
some 120 communities.
"Most people would prefer the telephone company [over
Triax]," municipal consultant Pat Callahan said. "When it comes to customer
service, the phone company wins hands down."
However, Triax has declined to discuss a sale, insisting
that the system has already been sold to Mediacom.
Trying to force a sale would require taking Triax to court,
where the MSO has indicated that it would argue that an expired franchise makes it legally
questionable whether Wellman still has the right to acquire the system.
Meanwhile, the City Council remains split over which path
"I think the mayor is inclined to pursue a purchase,
while other people on the council are willing to take their chances on a transfer to
Mediacom," Callahan said. "There have been some motions made, but there
haven't been enough votes to reach a decision."
Callahan said Triax's service woes were typified by a
recent extended service outage that occurred on the same day that the council was meeting
to discuss the company's renewal proposal.
"The timing couldn't have been worse," he
said. "After that, I'm sure that if Mediacom wasn't on the scene, the City
Council would not approve a renewal."
Triax spokesman Tom Bordwell said the MSO has tried to
assuage the city's concerns about future quality of service by including a provision
in its proposal calling for an upgrade to 550 megahertz.
"If they're concerned about the system being
upgraded, I think we've laid that to rest," he added.
Moreover, Bordwell said, Mediacom has agreed to explore a
possible joint partnership with WCTC as another way of showing its good faith. "So I
think we've given the city several options," he said.