Friday, April 04, 2008

Cable Increases, Franchise Renewal Up for Questions

Comcast of Plainfield began charging 19 percent more for its basic rate Jan. 1, even though the “proposed” new rate has not yet been approved by the state’s Board of Public Utilities.

Don’t fret, it’s legal, and if the BPU fails to approve the increase, cable customers will get the money back with interest.

Furthermore, according to a legal notice today, subscribers and other members of the public can weigh in on the increase by writing to a judge in the Office of Administrative Law. The deadline to comment is May 4 and the address is:
Honorable Richard McGill
Administrative Law Judge
Office of Administrative Law
33 Washington St., 7th Fl
Newark, NJ 07102

Comcast of Plainfield, which serves North and South Plainfield in addition to the Queen City, applied for the annual rate increase Oct. 1, 2007 as permitted by law. A bill from last year shows a total of $14.17 for the cable rate plus various fees. The bottom line now is $16.88. The cable fees alone were $13.80, increased to $15.80 per month.

The notice reminded Plaintalker of another issue, the cable franchise renewal process. According to a BPU report, more than 12,000 households had cable in 2005. The three-year process to determine how well Comcast has served Plainfield should have begun in August of 2006, with a report due in August of this year. The franchise expires in August 2009.

The Plainfield Cable Television Board was supposed to hold monthly meetings during the ascertainment period, make annual reports, report regularly to the mayor and council and generally to be involved in any activities having to do with local cable television, including the city’s own Channel 74.

Plaintalker has harped on this subject since December 2005 but there is not much progress to report. Click here for a file of past stories.

As an advisory board, the group probably is exempt from the Sunshine Law, but no reports have come forth. The board was established by ordinance four years ago and some members were appointed in 2006. In January, Council President Harold Gibson and City Council members Rashid Burney and Linda Carter were named liaisons to the committee.

Meanwhile, Verizon won the right to have franchises throughout New Jersey and according to the BPU, Verizon’s franchise here extends to December 2013. The clinker is that FIOS lines have not yet been installed everywhere, but lately FIOS trucks have been seen around the city. It would be interesting to know how the potential new competition will affect Comcast’s franchise renewal chances. At one point, a Comcast official alluded to an automatic five-year renewal when the 10-year franchise expires. But changing times may prevent a slam-dunk renewal.

There are lots of questions here that deserve a little explanation and updating. According to the council’s own Rules of Order, the Cable Television Advisory Board liaisons are supposed to report to the full council every four months. For 2008, could that be just about now?

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How come Gibson, Burney and Carter haven't insisted that a meeting be held? Wasn't Dottie Gutenkauf on the advisory board? She hasn't reported on anything and I know she would if they held a meeting.

6:20 PM  

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