Aldermen put off franchise

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Natchez aldermen on Tuesday took no action on renewing a franchise with Cable One, but most board members expressed displeasure and frustration with the city’s cable television provider.

City attorney Walter Brown said Cable One officials have requested a renewal of the franchise, which expires on July 11.

&uot;You have two choices,&uot; Brown said. &uot;You can go to federal court, which is expensive and difficult. Or you still have the terms of the contract you can insist on. That’s the leverage you have.&uot;

Aldermen cited poor reception, frequent cable outages and unsatisfactory response by the company to customers’ problems as basis for many phone calls they have fielded.

Constituents are looking to us to do something,&uot; said Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux, who heads the utilities committee. &uot;I want people to know that we’re questioning the service, questioning the franchise.&uot;

Brown said city officials can use the quality of service as a basis for terminating the franchise but will have to extend it for 30 to 90 days while discussions with Cable One continue.

&uot;I think we should get Mr. (Bobby) McCool in to talk with us again about the franchise,&uot; he said, referring to the company’s general manager.

McCool was out of the Natchez office on Tuesday and not available for comment. However, he has said in recent interviews that upgrading of the cable system from 450 to 550 megahertz, along with installation of 40 miles of fiber optic cable, would lead to improved reception and fewer outages.

Reception of network stations, 2-13 on the dial, probably will not be affected by the upgrade, he said, as they are sent by radio signal rather than satellite. The closest radio tower is 50 miles away in Alexandria and the often weak signal is out of the company’s control, McCool said.

Brown said Natchez is not a big enough market for a second cable company. &uot;They would have to string their own wires,&uot; he said, explaining the prohibitive costs a second company would incur.

Cable One is Natchez’s third successive cable provider, following Sammons Communications and Marcus Cable.

Alderman Jake Middleton defended Cable One as a good provider for a market the size of Natchez. &uot;Cable One probably has done more for us than any of them so far. In a geographic area like ours, I don’t think we’ll ever have better service,&uot; Middleton said.

For Alderwoman Sue Stedman, ongoing cable problems have been obvious. However, she gave the company high marks for recent efforts in upgrading their equipment. &uot;Bobby McCool has tried really hard,&uot; she said, predicting that outages should be less frequent and reception better.

Still, another complaint among cable customers has been the rising cost, now approaching $40 a month, and the absence of a cheaper, more basic service for those who want it, Stedman said.

&uot;They have a good point, though,&uot; Stedman said. &uot;They point out that satellite companies are not required to carry local network channels and cable companies are, at what I expect is great expense to them. It’s not fair.&uot;

Alderman David Massey said Cable One customers receive bills that advise them to call their aldermen in case of cable trouble. &uot;I want that line removed from the statements of the cable company. I want people to know it’s not that we don’t want to do anything but that we can’t do anything.&uot;