Proposed cable TV agreement includes fee for city equipment

Published 8:51 am Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Charter Communications may have to pay a new monthly fee for each of its Albert Lea subscribers under a proposed cable franchise with the city.

The fee, of up to $1.25 per subscriber per month, would go toward purchasing equipment needed to broadcast meetings live from the City Council Chambers. The meetings are broadcast on a government access channel on the cable network.

According to city documents, as much as $70,000 annually could be collected through the fee, an option not available under the prior franchise.

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It is unclear whether the company would pay the cost itself or pass it on to customers.

The Albert Lea City Council on Monday approved the first reading of an ordinance that grants a renewed franchise to Charter for 15 years. The second reading is slated for the council’s next meeting.

City Manager Chad Adams said the previous franchise was granted for five years with an automatic 10-year extension after a system upgrade.

As in years past, the proposed franchise would not be exclusive, leaving another company the option of also starting a franchise locally. Adams said the new agreement puts Charter and potential competitors on equal ground.

The proposed franchise also would require Charter to make three cable channels for community programming.

While the prior franchise required delivery of at least 40 cable channels, the proposal would require at least 80 programmed channels and would require an upgraded cable system delivering 750 MHz capacity.

Charter would be required to provide free connections and basic services to 15 sites including City Hall.

In return, the city would grant Charter the permission to use rights-of-way for reconstructing and maintaining the cable system.

Charter would pay the city 5 percent of its gross revenues as its franchise fee.

In other action, the City Council:

• Accepted a donation of about $10,000 for the purchase of playground equipment for Tiger Hills Park.

The city has $10,000 in the 2013 budget to go toward the purchase.

The equipment will be installed next summer.

• Approved an ordinance authorizing the Albert Lea Police Department to run criminal background checks for non-criminal purposes, including employment background checks, liquor license applications and peddler licenses.

The police department otherwise only had access to the state’s database of criminal justice information to perform law enforcement duties.