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Mayor, CenturyLink feuding over cable TV agreement

By: ANDREW WINEKE and DANIEL CHACÓN
June 21, 2012
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photo - Telecom provider CenturyLink wants a cable TV franchise in Colorado Springs Photo by
Telecom provider CenturyLink wants a cable TV franchise in Colorado Springs Photo by  

If Colorado Springs awards CenturyLink a cable television franchise, Mayor Steve Bach says it should be required to commit to serve low income areas.

“To be candid, CenturyLink does not want to put in the franchise agreement any specificity as to serving lower-income neighborhoods,” Bach said Wednesday during his monthly meeting with City Council.

“I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t work for me,” he said.

CenturyLink, which offers telephone and Internet service in the city, is seeking to add cable television to its offerings. City Council is scheduled to hold a hearing on the proposed franchise agreement Tuesday.

CenturyLink officials said Thursday that they agreed to add language to the franchise agreement that a "significant" portion of their initial build-out would serve lower income households, but couldn't commit to specific targets.

"I honestly thought we had reached an understanding about the language that was to be included in the agreement," said Mary LaFave, CenturyLink's director for public policy. "What we have discussed with the city is something that we have never discussed (in other communities). I've never seen it before."

Bach said he wanted written promises that CenturyLink would serve a variety of neighborhoods.

 “We’re not trying to do anything that’s unfair to them or unreasonable," he said. "But they have to make some affirmative, written statement in that (franchise) agreement, I would hope, as to serving a whole variety of neighborhoods."

Excluding low-income areas, a practice known as "redlining," is illegal and CenturyLink hasn't engaged in it in the eight cities where it already provides television service, LaFave said.

The city put no requirements on how Falcon Broadband and Porchlight Communications built out their service when they were awarded cable franchises in the city, LaFave said.

"What's a bit frustrating for us is we are going to be the fourth (cable company) to the city," she said. "This feels like we’re being singled out, and I understand there’s been a change in leadership in the city. But I tell you, the fact that you as a city granted two other no-build franchises feels not being very business friendly and targeting one new entrant.”

Comcast spokeswoman Cindy Parsons said any new cable company should be held to the same standards as Comcast was.

"Just as Comcast was required to make video services available throughout the city, we believe a new entrant into the video business should also be held to those same regulatory requirements," she said.

However, local telecom attorney Scott Seab, a former executive with Adelphia, Comcast's predecessor in Colorado Springs, said the mayor's standard would likely exceed Federal Communications Commission rules on build-out requirements.

"Bach appears to be singling out Century for unreasonable mandates that are not required by the Cable Act or the FCC's 621 Order from March, 2007, that streamlined the franchise approval process," Seab said in an e-mail.

Councilman Bernie Herpin said in an online comment that he's seen CenturyLink's initial roll-out plan and that it doesn't cherry pick wealthy neighborhoods.

"I have seen the CenturyLink initial roll out plan and know that they intend to serve diverse neighborhoods in the initial 22-percent coverage requirement," Herpin wrote on Facebook. "I doubt the mayor has seen the plan nor met with CenturyLink representatives. If he had, he wouldn't be making such unverified statements."

CenturyLink argues that adding a large new competitor to Comcast will drive down cable rates for everyone in the city, even people without access to CenturyLink's video service.

The franchise agreement calls for CenturyLink to make its service available to at least 22 percent of the city within three years of starting service in 2013. LaFave said the company has a tiered plan where it will continue to expand its service area as it signs up customers.

CenturyLink is promising to invest a minimum of $20 million in fiber optics and other infrastructure in the first three years and said it plans to hire 30 to 50 people in the city if the franchise is approved.

CenturyLink was already awarded a cable franchise in Monument and is seeking franchises in Fountain and unincorporated El Paso County.

Louisiana-based CenturyLink acquired Denver's Qwest Communications in 2010 in a $22 billion deal.

 

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