May 8, 2014 10:19:46 AM
A renewed franchise agreement between the city of Columbus and Cable One may mean an extra $150,000 in the city coffers over the next 10 years, according to a negotiator between the two parties.
Georgia-based Local Government Services President Greg Fender helped the two sides agree on a 15-year contract that provides the city five percent of gross revenue for use of city rights-of-way and infrastructure.
The previous 25-year contract that is about to expire provided the city five percent of customer fee collections, but it did not provide revenue to the city from advertising and home shopping commissions. The new contract does.
Fender said that over the next 10 years, the additional revenue should result in more than $150,000 for the city that it would not have received if it had not collected advertising commissions and could result in as much as $200,000 based on customer and ad revenue growth. The new contract also forces the cable provider to pay for the full cost of an audit if one is conducted and finds the city to be underpaid more than 5 percent of what it's supposed to receive.
The cable provider also agreed to a $16,000 equipment grant to the city to upgrade cameras in the municipal complex for city programming such as council meetings.
If another company buys out Cable One, the contract still applies for the 15-year period. At the end of that time, the city can evaluate services and agree to an automatic 10-year renewal.
I want my BET
Kenny Wright, General Manager of Cable One for Columbus and Lowndes County, told Columbus councilmen Tuesday that the provider plans to launch a new digital video service in August throughout the coverage area, which will provide better channel capacity and viewing capability in the future.
Currently, however, Cable One does not have in its plans a renewal of a contract with Viacom that expired in April. The two sides reached an impasse over a rate agreement. This means subscribers have not had access to 15 channels owned by Viacom, including Comedy Central, MTV, BET or Nickelodeon since then.
Columbus Mayor Robert Smith said Tuesday during a regular council meeting that he'd had questions from residents about BET and SEC Network, an upcoming cable college sports channel that launches in August and will be dedicated to coverage of Southeastern Conference athletics.
"We are currently in negotiations with SEC Network," Wright said. "We are not bringing (BET) back. We were unable to make a negotiation with Viacom. We did replace it with TV One, which is the equivalent of BET."
Several audience members murmured their disagreement with Wright's statement.
Councilman Charlie Box asked Wright if the provider had ever considered a pay-per-channel plan for customers.
"We get a lot of channels that we never look at," Box said. "A lot of people would like a pared-down version where they can select the channels they want and you bill them for that."
Wright said the new digital service will provide that capacity.
Bill Gavin said the biggest concern from his ward has been the dropped channels.
"The biggest concern for the citizens out here is the programming that has been dropped," Gavin said. "They miss some of that. I told these folks that called me yesterday that you have a choice."
Negotiations ongoing with AT&T
Fender had been paid $8,000 by the city to negotiate on a renewed contract with Cable One (which the provider reimbursed) and another $4,000 to do the same with AT&T to bring Internet and cable services. He said negotiations with what would be Cable One's competitor are "not moving very fast" because while AT&T has said it will match a local incumbent competitor's required payment to the city on revenue, there are a couple of exclusions that AT&T has not agreed on paying.
With that, the city would not be receiving revenue it is entitled to from video service rates, late fees and home maintenance service charges. That, Fender said, is part of the gross revenue that AT&T must agree to pay before a contract can be brought to the council.
"This is just normal negotiations back and forth," Fender said. "I'm a stickler for making sure local governments are paid the full five percent on gross revenue. If I didn't, I wouldn't be doing my job."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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