Wednesday, May 25, 2011

City considers amending Cox deal

Sun Valley councilman, mayor not happy with cable provider


A 12-year franchise agreement between the city of Sun Valley and Cox Communications is up this summer, and city officials are looking into whether the quality and service that citizens have been getting merits a renewal—or a renegotiated agreement that imposes penalties on the company for poor performance.

"Cox has just been absolutely horrible," Councilman Nils Ribi said during a City Council meeting May 19.

Ribi showed video he took that week of technical issues he experienced while watching TV.

"The audio is so bad, you can't even hear it," he said.

Ribi said the cable communication system has not lived up to its agreement.

The agreement is in the form of a city ordinance, enacted in 1999, that authorized the service provider to construct and operate the system in the city's right of way and required it to pay a 3 percent franchise fee for that use. The agreement also calls for the grantee to provide a high-quality system and services to the public.

"We're obviously not getting it," Ribi said.

He said the city received complaints from locals and visitors last year about coverage of the winter Olympics, which reflects negatively on a resort city that should be providing high-quality infrastructure.

Dan Wherry, then-director of operations for Cox's Wood River Valley services, appeared before the City Council in March 2010 following citizen complaints about problems with NBC's Channel 7, which aired the Olympics. Wherry said technical issues had been addressed in partnership with NBC.

Quality improved for a while, Ribi said, but recently reversed course.

"I'm extremely concerned about this," he said.

Ribi also took issue with the 3 percent franchise fee, which he said appears to be passed on, in part, to consumers.

"This is a direct tax on the citizens who are getting crappy service and are being forced to pay this when the agreement says the grantee shall pay this," he said.

The city may perform an audit to see if the company is living up to the agreement, rewrite the agreement to include penalties for poor service or make other changes before approving another agreement.

Guy Cherp, Cox's new vice president of operations in Sun Valley, responded to Ribi's complaints in a prepared statement provided Tuesday to the Idaho Mountain Express.

"Cox appreciates the opportunity to serve the residents of Sun Valley and support the local community. Our commitment is stronger than ever and as a result, we have made a substantial investment to upgrade our video product and offer several new services. Over the past two years, we have launched on-demand services, added several new HD channels and rolled out caller ID to the TV. Without question, these additions have enhanced the customer experience and demonstrate our commitment to provide a quality product, coupled with superior customer service.

"Cox is committed to following the franchise renewal process, as outlined by the FCC, and will continue to work with the City of Sun Valley in good faith, to reach an agreement that is fair to Cox customers."

Mayor Wayne Willich said he hopes to get the company to invest in better technology. In the meantime, he said, the city's legal department and city administrator will be tasked with looking into economic penalties that can't be passed on to the consumer.

"If we find it," Willich said in an interview, "we're going to do it."

Rebecca Meany: rmeany@mtexpress.com




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