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Thursday, May 5, 2016

City Council stalls on cable franchise, fire station one step closer

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Architectural drawing of Highland Fire Station
Highland is no closer to having a franchise agreement with cable provider Charter Communications, even after a lengthy discussion on the subject at the Aug. 12 city council meeting.

Charter Communications representative, Eddie Trower, told the council that according to the Cable Act, which the FCC enforces, it is a requirement that "we have franchise agreements with communities we provide service in."

Trower said the franchise agreement protected the cable operator but also the city served because of the insurance clause and indemnity.

"If someone knocks cable lines down, (a franchise agreement) protects the city from being liable -- the cable company would be responsible," Trower said.

The franchise agreement before the council included franchise fees but, Trower said, "You don't have to charge any franchise fees or you can charge up to 5 percent. We leave that up to the city."

"It also gives notification to franchise holders when we are getting ready to raise rates, changing the channel line-up and so forth. This agreement essentially codifies what the FCC standards are with regards to how many days out for service calls, installation, that sort of thing," Trower said.

Councilman Larry Allen told Trower he had a paragraph he wanted added to the franchise agreement. "I want to add 'the grantee will furnish a toll free number to all subscribers to a contact within 100 miles to granter's area to answer any questions and problems,'" Allen read.

"In other words," Allen said, "I subscribe to Charter. I'm a paying customer. I don't want to talk to India when I've got a problem. I want to talk to somebody that can tell me what's going on. What I want is someone to talk to within 100 miles."

In response to Allen, Trower said, "We can't do that. We're operating the way we are across the United States. We're not doing anything different here. We're in about 26 other states. All the call centers are tied together. If one call center is busied out, then it goes to the next call center."

Not satisfied with Trower's explanation, Allen said, "I've tried to make calls and I get India, and they say to call your local operator, and I say, 'what's the number?' They say they don't know. So now, I'm sitting here, got a TV that doesn't work and got no way of contacting anybody. I happen to know that you've got local people here at Cherokee that work on the TVs. I don't see why we can't have a number that people can call and talk to somebody in the general area that might know what the problem is.

"Your service is only as good as your ability to correct the problems, and if the customer's got to go all over the United States to find somebody, you're not providing a good service," Allen said.

Trower told the council that everything was based on workloads and is all under the billing system.

"Nobody's having a problem getting their bill," Allen responded.

Trower said the cable company provides a contact list and if there are issues the mayor or other city employee can contact them.

Highland Mayor Jerome Norwood said he already has two different lists in his office with several numbers but, "I've never got an answer."

"I think the mayor and the clerk have more things to do than answer complaints for your business," Allen said. "They don't do it for (any other business). It's your business, you're providing a service and I'm telling you about a major complaint of your service."

Other council members questioned Trower about the communications problem and suggested complaining to the FCC to see if something could be done.

The legality of continuing operation in Highland without a franchise agreement, Trower said, was a question he couldn't answer. "This is a unique situation. We have a franchise with everyone (city)," he said.

During a vote to determine whether to accept the franchise agreement or not, the council voted two in favor and five against. Those voting were: Pardee -- yes, Holden -- yes, Casey -- no, Harris -- no, Reed -- no, Allen -- no and Trimble -- no.

After the vote, Trower said, "I'm not saying we're not trying to improve our customer service, but we've got 240-280 customers in this area, and we've got 5.3 million, and we can't change for 280 what we're doing for the country."

In other business, Mayor Norwood told the council that an old police car was sold to Ernie Rose for $900 and that the public works department was having problems with the new switches for the sewer system and that the company had been notified.

Some surplus equipment that had been donated to the Highland Fire Department after the February tornado has been given to the Hardy Fire Department. "They were very appreciative," Norwood said. "We just passed it on."

An architectural drawing of the new Highland Fire Station was displayed along with plans showing possible future additions of the police department and city hall. The mayor requested the council approve the preliminary stages which would allow him to begin advertising for bids for the construction. "We need to get it out there and see where we stand," he said. Although the council is not required to accept any of the bids, this would allow them to see how much money will actually be needed for the construction, Norwood said. "I sent the figures down to Austin, Texas, with the county judge to see if FEMA will amend the previous agreement and possibly allow us more money to build the fire station," he said, adding that costs had increased since the initial estimate of FEMA funds was approved.

Sharp County Judge Larry Brown traveled to Texas recently, along with other area leaders, to ask for more FEMA reimbursement for Sharp County and other nearby counties and cities affected by natural disasters this past year.

Alderman Allen gave an update on Highland's anniversary celebration planned for Oct. 11 from noon to 6 p.m. Allen said Glory Road will perform at the celebration and Denise Gibbons will sing the national anthem. In addition to a classic car show and other activities there will be free hot dogs and multiple door prizes given away.

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