Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sun Valley, Cox make progress on agreement

Company tries to address technical difficulties

Express Staff Writer

Comments from the public, research from a committee and input from an attorney have been compiled into a draft franchise agreement between the city of Sun Valley and Cox Communications for cable TV service.

A temporary committee tasked with reviewing complaints about the company and forming a recommendation for the franchise agreement presented the draft document to the Sun Valley City Council on Nov. 17.

Committee members included Jim Knight, Harry Griffith, Kevin Laird and Councilmen Nils Ribi and Bob Youngman.

The council accepted the committee's recommendations and forwarded the draft to Cox for the company's input. Cox will have three weeks to respond.

The city had contracted with an attorney who specializes in franchise agreements to help develop the document.

Ribi said the FCC has stringent rules on what cities can and can't do with regard to such agreements.

For example, federal law requires a city to conduct an extensive administrative process before it has the ability to deny a renewal request. However, "there's one particular area where the FCC has given municipalities some additional leeway, and that is in customer service standards," he said. "Localities may set higher customer service requirements than federal FCC requirements."

Customer service standards may be drawn up separately from the franchise agreement.

"It seems to be a growing trend around the country," Ribi said. "It allows a franchise agreement to stand on its own."

Ribi had lambasted Cox during meetings for what he said was "horrible" quality and service, but he said last week that meetings with Cox had been productive, and he expressed confidence that the company is working toward improving service.

"This is not going to be an issue because they're striving for that anyway," Ribi said.

The committee will present ideas for those standards and their enforcement, likely at the Council's Dec. 15 meeting.

Technical difficulties

Some Cox customers have complained about technical issues with cable service. Cox representatives have said the Wood River Valley's location presents obstacles to consistent signals.

"Locally generated signals coming from television broadcast affiliates pass through several transmission points before making their way to the Wood River Valley," Gail Graeve, Cox's director of public affairs, said in a written statement provided to the Idaho Mountain Express. "Because we live in a mountain community, our geography can present challenges for these signals, which can result in lesser quality or even an outage.

"With increased transmission points comes an increased potential for signal error. When a broadcaster's signal is unstable or unavailable, we contact the broadcaster immediately so they can respond to the issue at hand. In this situation, we do everything possible to work with the broadcaster to help restore the signal. That said, it is the broadcaster's responsibility to emit a strong and consistent signal for our viewers."

Sometimes, a weak signal results in Cox's airing another station's signal. When the NBC broadcast signal from Boise is unstable or unavailable, Graeve said, Cox airs the NBC signal from the Pocatello affiliate.

"This solution allows us to offer Cox customers continued access to NBC programming with the least amount of interruption to their video service," she said. "The switch in programming occurs on a case-by-case basis, and once the Boise signal is restored, we air their feed."

Rebecca Meany:

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