Bucks towns join forces in fight with cable TV company (1 Viewer)

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Apr 18, 2005
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Four Bucks County towns have joined forces in franchise-renewal talks with cable-TV company Service Electric.

Officials in Nockamixon, Tinicum and Springfield townships and Riegelsville Borough are pressing Service Electric to upgrade it service.

"Basically, the townships have felt we are underserved by the cable company and they are so unresponsive that the townships would like to continue working together," said Christine Shaffer, a Springfield resident who serves on the Joint Cable/Telecommunications Advisory Board for Bucks County.

Springfield's 15-year franchise agreement with Service Electric ends on Dec. 31. Riegelsvlle and Tinicum are operating under expired contracts. Nockamixon's agreement ended last year but was extended through this year.

Shaffer said residents of the municipalities have complained about the quality of the picture and service.

"In the past, at times, Service Electric has responded to complaints only when threatened with legal action," said Shaffer. "You could call until you're blue in the face and not get a response."

The municipalities have tried to set up a meeting with Service Electric representatives but have not received a response.

Service Electric's general manager, Jack Capparell, said that's because the franchise-renewal draft submitted by Fred Polner, the Pittsburgh attorney representing the towns, was filled with demands for increased service.

"It's not that we don't want to negotiate," said Capparell. "This (draft) is just totally absurd."

Capparell said Service Electric would "be more than happy" to sit down with the municipal officials to look at the cable company's franchise agreement and see what the towns would like to have added.

"The consortium was trying to get what we feel is the service they may have given upstate people with fiber-optic cable and we don't have that here. We have old stuff. What we'd like is better dial up, more speed," said Nockamixon Supervisor Henry Gawronski.

"We're not interested in their franchise agreement," said Tom Stinnett, a Riegelsville councilman.

Gawronski said the franchise agreements offered by Service Electric "have no meat or teeth," and lack requirements for the cable company to make service calls or be punished if repairs aren't made within a certain number of days.

According to Capparell, every call to Service Electric is documented and repairmen are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If there are more than three calls from any area, a technician is sent out to do service because it means there is probably a problem with a line.

Stinnett said that some of the municipalities have requested call records from Service Electric in the past and Service Electric said it did not have them.

Currently, each municipality is passing a Customer Service Ordinance that includes penalties for noncompliance, and the municipalities could take Service Electric to court for that, said Stinnett. Riegelsville, Springfield and Tinicum have passed their ordinance and Nockamixon is due to adopt it this month.

Service Electric pays the municipalities a 5 percent fee based on gross revenues, the maximum amount allowed by the FCC. Nockamixon, for example, collects approximately $25,000 a year in franchise fees, said Gawronski.

Capparell said it behooves the municipalities to work something out with Service Electric, since competitors -- satellite TV and phone companies -- are not required to pay franchise fees. Stinnett said the FCC is "hazy" on whether those companies are required to pay such fees.

http://www.nj.com/delawarevalleynews/index.ssf?/base/news-0/1141936438207400.xml&coll=12
 

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