Town looks for cable remedy

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— While many south Routt cable television subscribers have 49 more days until their service is shut off, Oak Creek officials are exploring whether Galaxy Cablevision's action could breach the company's franchise agreement with the town.

On Feb. 12, Galaxy announced it will shut down its cable lines in Oak Creek, Stagecoach and Phippsburg in 60 days because of the difficulties of maintaining and upgrading rural cable systems.

Instead, the company is offering to sign up its cable subscribers to dish services through Pegasus Satellite Television.

The Oak Creek franchise agreement Galaxy inherited in December when the company bought the lines from Total Local Cable, is good for 15 years, starting when the agreement was originally signed in 1988. The agreement would expire in 2003.

Brett Chardavoyne is a Denver-based attorney, whom Oak Creek attorney Bob Weiss referred the town to when the cable television situation arose. Chardavoyne said the town's position is when Galaxy turns off the cable lines, it will breach the franchise agreement.

"The town's position is that once you enter into the franchise, one assumes the rights and responsibilities," Chardavoyne said.

Bryan Uptain, Colorado state manager for Galaxy Cablevision, said his company's attorney advised him that the 15-year commitment stated in the franchise agreement does not obligate the company to supply the service.

"It gives us the right to run the cable system, not the obligation," Uptain said.

Uptain explained the agreement allows the company to run cable lines on public property but doesn't hold the company responsible to provide the service.

The franchise agreement states: " the town hereby grants to the Grantee a no-exclusive revocable franchise to construct, erect, operate and maintain a community antenna television system within the town."

Chardavoyne didn't comment specifically on whether Galaxy will breach the contract when it turns off the cable lines, prefacing his answers with, "It's the town's position ."

Meanwhile, Oak Creek officials are still waiting to be advised by Chardavoyne about the issue, Oak Creek Mayor Deb Van Gundy said.

Besides pointing out the dilemma of two lawyers banging heads over the issue, Van Gundy said she couldn't comment on how the town will react to the issue until officials are better informed.

If the town decides Galaxy is legally in the wrong, its options are outlined in the franchise agreement. If the problem isn't solved 60 days after contacting Galaxy of the breach, and after a public meeting, the town could seek monetary damages or other equitable relief.

As far as Stagecoach and Phippsburg goes, one franchise agreement covered those areas and it expired, Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. The county sent Galaxy another agreement to sign after they bought the lines, but the county has not received a signed agreement, she said.

The terms of a franchise agreement is the only leverage a municipality has when trying to ensure cable service in the town, state Director of the Office of Consumer Counsel Ken Rief said.

"Cable television is essentially unregulated," he said.

Unlike natural gas, telephone and electric companies that the state defines as an "essential service," cable companies do not have to guarantee service.

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