Business

Groups to discuss cable TV franchises

Richland and Pasco want to know what residents want from a cable TV franchise over the next 10 or 15 years.

The two cities will have a series of public focus groups in January to talk about the future of local cable TV service as they prepare to renew franchises with Charter Communications.

"Once every 12 to 15 years, local governments have the opportunity to examine past services provided by cable/video service providers and renegotiate franchise agreements," said Richland Mayor John Fox. "Given the enormous changes in technology and media over the past dozen years, this current process of granting a new franchise to Charter deserves serious consideration and public input."

Richland and Pasco last renewed Charter's cable franchise in 1998. The company's franchise in Pasco is up for renewal in June 2013. The Richland franchise is set for renewal in September 2013, said Richland spokeswoman Candace Andrews.

Charter provides cable to about 16,000 subscribers in the two cities.

Pasco spokesman Jon Funfar said the cities have only limited control over how the cable company operates within their boundaries -- the cities can't, for example, dictate the rates Charter charges customers.

"That's something we just can't do," Funfar said.

The franchise agreements also don't address internet or telephone service -- just cable TV.

But the cities do have some control through franchise agreements over ensuring that new developments get timely cable TV service, and can have some say in the customer service their residents receive, Funfar said.

Because Charter owns the physical system that delivers cable TV in Pasco and Richland, the cities can't just give the franchise to someone else.

"It's not for the cities to decide what should be done with that system," Funfar said.

But the cities can charge Charter a franchise fee for having its system in the public right-of-way.

And the cities would consider granting additional franchises to other cable providers -- if those companies want to build their own cable systems in town.

"But if you look around the nation, deploying a cable system is pretty expensive," Funfar said.

So the focus groups are to get thoughts from individuals and groups about topics such as the availability of public access channels and how public information is disseminated through the cable TV system.

Participants will learn how the cable system works and hear more about how other jurisdictions are using technology.

Meeting times and dates are:

-- 10 a.m. Jan. 24 at the Richland Public Library for local governments, boards, commissions and special districts;

-- 6:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at the Richland Public Library for arts, culture, music, heritage organizations and artists;

-- 10 a.m. Jan. 25 in Room TD439 at Columbia Basin College in Pasco for health and human services organizations and agencies;

-- 3:30 p.m. Jan. 25 in Room TD439 at CBC for K-12 administrators, teachers and staff;

-- 10 a.m. Jan. 26 in the Parks & Recreation classroom at Pasco City Hall for nonprofit community and civic organizations, churches and faith-based organizations;

-- 4 p.m. Jan. 26 in the Parks & Recreation classroom at Pasco City Hall for higher education, research and technology, and health care institutions and businesses.

All sessions are open to the public.

Anyone wanting to participate in one of the groups should RSVP at bit.ly/richlandcable or 1.usa.gov/pascocable or call 942-7386 or 545-3485.

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