Cable and City back to drawing board

by Norm Winick

John Guiste and the Galesburg Telecommunications Commission thought they were getting close to an agreement with Insight Communications on a new cable franchise for Galesburg -- one that would provide increased service to residents and businesses. ''We were down to four points of negotiation,'' said Guiste, who's been representing the City administration in the negotiations, ''and they were all items that were very negotiable.'' Members of the commission, the city's cable attorney, Michael J. Smoron of Chicago, and, reportedly, even Insight's attorney, Keith Hall, thought they were close to an agreement. Only the length of its term, the cost of a return line from Carl Sandburg College, the cost of some equipment for educational and governmental use and a ''most favored nations' clause that guaranteed Galesburg cable service equal to or better than any offered within 100 miles were still on the table.

Instead, the 64-page contract was returned from Insight's New York office with dozens of items deleted and changed -- items that, according to Guiste, ''significantly change and reduce Insight's level of service offered to Galesburg.''

Some of the changes and deletions fixed typos or cleared up vague language; others deliberately modified terms that had previously been inserted.

A copy of the draft agreement, with Insight's deletions, indicate that the strikeouts and changes all benefit Insight.

Determining the firm's revenues from its Galesburg operation are critical to determining the franchise fee it owes the city. The original contact included its accrued income, including the non-cash income such as items paid in trade; Insight deleted that. Insight also amended the income to be counted from home shopping channels. (which pay a commission and other fees to cable companies). The requirement for an independent auditor was replaced with a report from a ''financial officer of Insight.''

The original definition of a ''service Interruption'' included ''inferior reception;'' that was stricken. So was a clause requiring them to credit a month's service if cable would be out for seven days or more. An automatic refund of $20 if Insight's service personnel fail to keep an appointment was replaced with a penalty paid ''upon subscriber's request.''

Extending service to new areas whenever there are 20 or more dwelling units per mile was part of the original agreement. The revised draft limits that to areas within 200 feet of the existing cable system -- essentially eliminating any new subdivision from getting cable unless cable's there first.

The City's attorney had included a few clauses establishing the city's right to negotiate the agreement and Insight's approval that they had that authority and that Insight could not claim any monetary recourse from the city; that was stricken.

What was once a requirement that calls be answered 24 hours in Insight's Peoria operations center now has no geographic requirement. The contract originally prohibited them from charging a late payment fee before 30 days; that is gone. So is a clause requiring them too pay the city $1,250 per linear foot whenever they cut into a street that had been resurfaced within the previous 16 months.

While agreeing to two channels reserved for educational or governmental use, Insight now wants to be able to use them for their own purposes whenever they are not ''actively utilized'' by others.

While many of the modifications included the addition of the term ''reasonably'' or other modifiers, others are seen by Guiste, the City Council and the Telecommunications Commission as reneging on terms they had once agreed to. ''I don't think they were prepared to face a city with knowledgeable people and a telecommunications commission,'' said Guiste.

The City Council put the ball back in Insight's court and there are some indications company C.E.O. Michael Willner will put himself in the fray before Galesburg's long-running cable soap opera is finally canceled.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online January 9, 2002

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