Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Nov. 1, 1999

New cable franchise agreement comes with all the goodies

By Luis Puga

Winsted City Council signed a new cable franchise agreement at a special meeting Wednesday.

The new agreement will turn over the city's cable service to Mediacom L.L.C., which has purchased Triax Cable, the city's previous provider.

Winsted is part of a three-city system including Silver Lake, which has also signed over to Mediacom, and Lester Prairie.

Attorney Bob Vose of Kennedy and Gavin, representing the three cities, said the he will present Lester Prairie with the agreement at the earliest possible occasion, primarily because the two cable companies wanted to close the deal as soon as possible.

Vose noted that the three cities are the last to be transferred from Triax to Mediacom. He also said he does not understand why the companies were anxious to see the three cities transferred by closing.

He said asking the council to consider and pass the new agreement in one evening was an unusual set of circumstances, but noted that the city is getting more than it asked for in the deal.

Vose said that up until three weeks ago, negotiations were stalled. It was then that the companies' lawyers said they needed to extend the franchise agreement to August of 2000 to complete their closing.

In a reply that Vose accredited to City Administrator Aaron Reeves, Vose was told to hold off and ask for Mediacom to "put something on the table."

He told the council that Mediacom not only agreed to what the city asked for, but added additional provisions to benefit the city.

Couch potato heaven

With the new system, the number of channels will be increased from 54 to 80.

This is due to the system being upgraded from 400 MHz to 750 MHz, which Vose described as state-of-the-art and comparable to a major metropolitan area.

Along with that, capacity will be added for Internet/cable modem service, high speed data connections, and competitive telephony. Mediacom will have 24 months to complete this update or it will be in violation of the agreement.

The new system will also be digital, improving the quality of reception, reducing blackouts, and eliminating audio variations between channels.

"This is as good as it gets," Vose said.

Consumers can also expect a quicker response in drop cable burial. The company will have 10 days to bury a cable. Further, Mediacom has agreed to the highest standard of restoring right-of-way to its original condition.

The city can also require Mediacom to perform special testing at the company's expense.

In the past, Vose described Triax's customer service as less than good, and really bad at times. Essentially, any violation of customer service agreements, up to not answering the phone, could result in a violation of the current franchise agreement.

Further, Mediacom will deposit $5,000 in a local bank and maintain that balance. If the company has any violations in performance, the city can withdraw that money as a penalty.

New high school

The franchise agreement also provides a special side agreement to the city if a new high school is placed in Winsted.

Mediacom requested that this not be included in the franchise as it did not want to set a precedent. Vose also credited this provision to Reeves' effort as well.

If construction is started on a new high school within two years, Mediacom will provide high speed Internet service to the facility, including wiring, drops, and system electronics for multiple terminals in multiple rooms. The modems, interior wiring, outlets, and other necessary equipment will be provided at cost. The rest of the wiring on the exterior will be free.

The rate for the high school service will be 50 percent of its lowest residential rate for 100 concurrent sessions of use, about $20 to $30 a month.

The high school will also be given free cable service and free two-way access for video programming.

Other provisions

While the above deal only applies to new high schools, the city's current institutions will also get special benefits.

Certain public institutions designated by the city will receive free installation, an outlet and service. The city will also be capable of designating one location for two-way video programming.

Non-profit institutions, such as Holy Trinity, could also receive Internet services for a rate equivalent to the lowest rate Mediacom provides nationally to a non-profit organization.

While the city asked for only a five-year agreement, Vose explained Mediacom was unwilling to do this. Rather, the new agreement will hold for 15 years with the optoin for a yearly review if the city requests it, and a mandatory five-year review.

Mediacom will also provide $12,000 up front for community programming equipment on two channels. Starting in the sixth year, the company will pay $2,500 per year until a total of $32,000 for equipment is reached. This money will be divided by the three cities' cable commission.

Further, any sale or transfer will require the city's approval and the city will have the right to purchase its own cable system upon a request for transfer.

Vose did warn that with the additional services and guarantees, consumers could expect rate increases on their service. However, he felt such increases would be mitigated by competition from satellite systems.

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