City will appeal cable company’s request | NevadaAppeal.com

City will appeal cable company’s request

Robyn Moormeister

Carson City will join a regional movement to stall possible deregulation of local cable television service.

Carson City, Sparks, Reno and Washoe County today will file an opposition with the Federal Communications Commission to urge the FCC to re-evaluate a petition for deregulation of the basic cable tier by local cable provider Charter Communications, Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Forsberg said Monday.

In order to achieve deregulation, Charter Communication needs to prove 15 percent of its customers have switched to satellite television providers, taking away its monopoly status and forcing it to act as a market competitor.

If cable is deregulated, Charter will have greater leverage in negotiating franchise agreements with municipalities throughout Nevada.

Charter would no longer be required to offer a basic cable package and could require residents to buy more expanded packages to get basic services.

“They could also do negative-option billing,” Forsberg said. “It’s charging you for something you might not want, like a cable box, unless you say you don’t want it.”

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With deregulation, Charter could also bill customers for increased amounts based on location.

Carson City’s 1987 agreement with Charter expired in 2002 but is extended until the next franchise agreement is reached.

The Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulated most aspects of cable rate regulations, while municipalities retained some control over basic cable service in their communities.

Carson City’s current agreement requires Charter to provide Carson City residents with an option to buy a basic cable package for $12.34.

Charter is also obligated to provide two free public access channels, Channels 10 and 26, currently used to broadcast city board meetings, local news and entertainment.

As part of its franchise agreement, the cable company also provides feeds to all public buildings and schools, Forsberg said, and the city regulates how much the company can charge for field service calls.

Since Charter’s local contract expired, consulting firm Sue Busky and Associates has been assisting city officials in determining its needs for the next franchise agreement.

Carson City Manager Linda Ritter said the firm will hold focus groups in January to get public opinion on cable needs.

Forsberg said the cable provider probably won’t have any problem proving its case of heightened competition to the FCC.

Instead, he said, the city is questioning Charter’s information-gathering methods.

Forsberg said Charter bases its petition data on ZIP codes, some of which extend outside of the city into areas with no cable infrastructure, where residents’ only option is satellite television.

Supervisor Pete Livermore said 40 percent of Charter’s service area does not have the infrastructure to provide cable. Instead of using those areas as an excuse for deregulation, he said, Charter should expand its infrastructure and services to provide cable.

“As long as (Charter) is using the public right-of-way they should negotiate in the public’s best interest,” Livermore said. “If they deregulate, our public access could go away.”

Livermore said he supports the joint appeal. Municipalities have until Nov. 28 to appeal Charter’s petition for deregulation.

Contact reporter Robyn Moormeister at rmoormeister@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1217.

Carson’s

Franchise Agreement

• Carson City’s 1987 agreement with Charter expired in 2002 but is extended until the next franchise agreement is reached.

• Carson City’s current agreement requires Charter to provide Carson City residents with an option to buy a basic cable package for $12.34.

• Charter is also obligated to provide two free public access channels, Channels 10 and 26, currently used to broadcast city board meetings, local news and entertainment.

• As part of its franchise agreement, the cable company also provides feeds to all public buildings and schools, and the city regulates how much the company can charge for field service calls.

With Deregulation

• Charter will have greater leverage in negotiating franchise agreements with municipalities throughout Nevada.

• Charter would no longer be required to offer a basic cable package and could require residents to buy more expanded packages to get basic services.

• Charter could enact negative option billing, or charging for services unless customers say they don’t want it.

With deregulation, Charter could also bill customers for increased amounts based on location.