Thursday July 22, 2010

LEE -- The town is ready to impose financial sanctions against Time Warner Cable if the company doesn't back down from demanding a local homeowner pay $12,000 for cable installation.

The Board of Selectmen says Time Warner has 30 days to reverse its position. If not, Lee will start taking money from the $10,000 Time Warner posted with the town as part of its local license agreement.

"We've put Time Warner on notice," said Malcolm Chisholm, Lee's delegate to the Five Town Cable Television Advisory Committee "They are in breach of contract."

"The $12,000 fee is certainly a ridiculous amount," said Selectman Patricia Carlino.

Lee officials are upset Time Warner would charge Mark Williams the exorbitant fee -- rather than the basic installation cost of $35 -- because his home is roughly a half-mile away from the closest Time Warner Cable subscriber. Chisholm said the cable company -- evoking the so-called "long-driveway" clause in Williams' case -- is using an incorrect interpretation of the town's license agreement.

Chisholm said the contract entitles all homes to cable service if electric and telephone service are already available.

"They have to step up and run the cable to the home," said Selectman David Consolati. "It's part of the agreement [Time Warner] signed up for."

Williams' home on Fernside Street near the Tyringham town line is roughly 300 feet away from the nearest utility pole. Since the $35 installation fee covers up to 200 feet, Williams said he realizes he'll have to pay extra for the additional 100 feet, but he won't pay $12,000.

Beside cable television and telephone service, Williams is most interested in Time Warner's high-speed Internet access for his home-based business.

While Time Warner won't comment on a specific situation, officials at the company's regional office in Albany, N.Y., said they are within their right to assess a higher fee for installing cable in remote sections of a community.

"A portion of the costs of extending cable plant to very sparsely populated areas is borne by the residents of the area who wish to receive the service," company spokesman Michael Bucci wrote in an e-mail to The Eagle. "Otherwise, the cost of providing service to these areas is borne by our other customers, who receive no benefit from that construction."

"Our franchise agreement and policy in the Town of Lee is consistent with that in almost all of our franchise areas," Bucci said.

In a similar case three years ago, Time Warner agreed to drop its claim that a homeowner on Antelope Drive in Lee fork over $1,102 for cable installation. The company's decision in 2007 followed the town also threatening the company with financial penalties. However, Time Warner officials said the reversal was based on the individual case, rather than agreeing to the town's interpretation of the contract regarding installation.

Town officials said both situations are the same and Time Warner should back down from assessing a higher installation fee to a remote customer.

"Hopefully, they'll come to their senses again," said Chisholm.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.