The buzz on the future of city cable television

A study commissioned by the city administration in 1973 for the coming of cable television recommended municipal ownership for delivering the service locally, a concept favored in discussions at the Federal Communications Commission during the Sixties. Thirty years after local cable began broadcasting, during a series of buzz groups, November 9 to 12, conducted by the Buske Group, contracted by the city to make recommendations for the negotiation of a local franchise agreement, there was little mention of that concept. But engineer Carlo Moneti, who has spent considerable time studying on it, maintains that municipal ownership could reduce local subscriber rates by at least 30 percent.

"I've been doing a sanity check," Moneti told City Eagle, "talking with Tim Nulty, a retired economist who has developed several telecom services, talking to the people at Metronet and others in the field. He lives in Vermont, where Burlington is one of the 400 communities across the country that have municipal systems. He's interested in Syracuse because of its size, because it's urban, and its proximity. He's an authority on the subject, and could put together a plan with a basic buy in to see if it's feasible here. The city could buy the {transmission} system from Time Warner. Time Warner doesn't want to sell, because the system is too lucrative. But the franchise agreement has expired, and the city doesn't have to renew it."

Down for a decade

During the buzz groups, facilitator Susan Buske repeatedly warned those in attendance representing city agencies, organizations, businesses or themselves as cable viewers, that the franchise agreement, currently under mutually agreed upon extension, if renewed, would lock in items of negotiated agreement for 10 years. She emphasized that a 1984 federal law established that cable franchise agreements can not be exclusive, and that the city could negotiate the same agreement with both Time Warner and Verizon, which is looking to build a subscriber base in the city. The 1984 law, she noted, also mandated a 5 percent franchise fee to be used at the city's discretion. The current agreement, with about 34,000 subscribers, is extended until March 2010.

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