St. John the Baptist Parish, an area of 50,000 residents 20
miles outside of New Orleans, has elected to bring competition to its local cable market.
At its Sept. 28 meeting, the Parish Council voted to begin
negotiating a possible cable franchise with a local telecommunications-services provider
that wants to compete for Time Warner Cable's area video subscribers.
Reserve Telecommunications has petitioned the council for a
franchise that would allow it to build a network capable of delivering cable, telephone
and high-speed Internet services.
"What we're telling Reserve [with the vote] is
that we're willing to negotiate the use of our rights-of-way, or whatever is
necessary," council member Joel McTopy said.
McTopy added that the Parish Council hopes allowing Reserve
to compete with Time Warner will at least encourage the MSO to hold the line on local
In recent years, he said, area residents have complained
about rate hikes that were not accompanied by increases in Time Warner's programming
lineup. "Our constituents are telling us they want competition," he added.
Time Warner acquired the local system from Riverlands
Cablevision in 1996.
In the most recent confrontation between the MSO and local
officials, the Parish Council challenged Time Warner's 1998 rate hike, which added an
estimated $1 per month to local cable bills.
Local Time Warner officials did not return calls for
comment by press time.
"As far as I'm concerned, Time Warner's
service has been very good," McTopy said. "So I'm not here to say that they
haven't been good neighbors. But it's an economic consideration. People
didn't feel they were getting value for their money."
The situation has been made worse by the perception that
residents of nearby St. Charles, Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard parishes were
receiving more programming from Cox Communications Inc.
"The real issue is that Cox offers much more extensive
service, at the same price or less," council member Duaine Duffy told New Orleans
newspaper The Times-Picayune. "It's been a constant complaint."