07/13/06 — Commission weighs franchise agreement

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Commission weighs franchise agreement

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on July 13, 2006 1:53 PM

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners hopes to approve a cable television franchise agreement with Cebridge Acquisition within the next month, before state legislation takes away their power to issue the agreements.

During the board's meeting on Tuesday, the commissioners conducted a second reading of a franchise agreement between the county and Cebridge, which bought out Cox Communications earlier this year. But the commissioners chose not to make a final decision because Commissioner Andy Anderson was not in attendance.

Although a public hearing on the proposal is not required by law, the commissioners are planning to hold a public hearing at their next meeting Aug. 15.

Cebridge provides cable TV to the eastern part of Wayne County. Time-Warner provides cable TV and other services to most of the rest of the county.

Another cable TV franchise agreement with Time-Warner is possible in the coming months, but Commissioner Atlas Price said none of the contract's details have been made final and ready for commissioners' consideration.

County officials adopted a cable regulatory ordinance in July 1996 and have used it to lay down terms when issuing a franchise agreement to cable TV providers. But legislation advancing in Raleigh could give state officials the power to issue the agreements instead.

Both the House and Senate are pondering versions of bills that would give the power to issue franchises to the state only. The House measure has been approved in that chamber. The Senate bill has passed its second and third reading, but has remained in the finance committee for the last month.

Legislators have said the intent of the bills is to benefit customers by creating a more competitive atmosphere for cable providers.

County officials have said that handing over the franchising rights to the state will reduce TV companies' incentive to provide service in sparsely populated areas -- something local governments have often required of companies before giving them a franchise to operate.

The state, not the county, would collect the franchise fees. That would cost Wayne County as much as $300,000 a year, county officials say. That would amount to the loss of a half-cent of the county's property tax revenue, they noted.

Stipulations in the county's current contracts with cable TV providers requires the companies give the county 5 percent of the gross subscriber revenue, which includes advertising and all services associated with the cable services provided.