Thursday, December 23, 2004

Oh Mecklenburg, Oh Mecklenburg...

It is rare that a municipality denies a cable franchise renewal. Most towns and counties do not have the resources to go through the lengthy legal process (and perhaps even court) that follows a denial. For that reason, many will throw up their hands and acquiesce to the deal the cable operator throws on the table. It’s frustrating but these municipalities have no real choice in the matter, the cable ops have very deep pockets and can drag out a negotiation forever if they choose.

Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, has taken a bold step in denying a franchise renewal to Time Warner. Charlotte also known as “Queen City,” boasts itself as a “world class city with small town charm,” and touts welcoming events such as the “Newcomer Welcome Fair.” Knowing some of the regulators involved in this decision I can vouch that they did not take it lightly and did everything they could to achieve a fair and equitable franchise agreement.

So what did Time Warner do to get themselves into this pickle?

It’s not necessarily what they did as much as it is what they didn’t do.

First, the County has no record of Time Warner ever delivering the necessary letter to invoke the formal process required by federal law 47 U.S.C. § 546(a). It would seem from correspondence that the County bent over backward to get Time Warner to bargain in good faith, issuing extensions, even providing Time Warner with a model plan for an I-Net. But Time Warner ignored the assessment done by Mecklenburg for future cable related needs and then placed unreasonable demands on the County concerning their uses of rights of way and the ability of the county to promote competition. Perhaps what really tweaked the County was an apparent attitude that Time Warner understood the needs of the community better than it did, even though the county had extensively studied the needs of the community.

Throw into the mix the lousy provisions for PEG, a suggestion that the County pay for interconnectivity, lack of facilities upgrades, the deletion of provisions for communicating with citizens who are deaf, blind or non-English speakers and Time Warner’s attempt to prevent the County from using its Emergency Alert System and you’ve got one heck of a case for denial.

Which brings the final point, if municipalities do not conduct thorough needs assessments they cannot adequately claim grounds for denial. It’s quite possible that Mecklenburg has a slam dunk since they did their homework correctly and have shown extraordinary due diligence.

In this season of cheer Time Warner needs to stop acting like the Grinch and meet the very reasonable demands of Mecklenburg.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

1 comment:

Anonymous said...