New Time Warner contract said to be close


PITTSFIELD -- An attempt to appoint two city councilors to the Pittsfield Cable Television Commission was tabled this week, after the chairman expressed fear any changes could negatively affect a negotiated city contract with Time Warner Inc.

Chairman Brian P. Johnson advised against Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's request to the City Council to appoint councilors Anthony Simonelli and Kevin Morandi to the commission, saying changes to the commission might now give Time Warner leeway to seek to alter a 10-year agreement.

Johnson told councilors he had met previously with Bianchi to explain the situation and did not have any objection to having the two councilors join the commission. But, he said, he was advised by commission legal counsel Patrick Scully that any such change in membership might provide the cable giant with grounds to reopen the negotiations.

One contract provision at stake, Johnson said, is the franchise fee rate of support for Pittsfield Community Television -- which operates the local cable channels. Time Warner has advocated that the level be lowered nationally through legislation from the current 5 percent of customer payments.

According to Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, also a cable commission member, Time Warner is reportedly trying to market itself for sale and seeks to reduce expenses. For that reason, the company would like to see a lower franchise fee percentage, and also seeks shorter-term cable agreements with municipalities than the 10-year deal negotiated with Pittsfield, he said.

The difference for the Pittsfield system, Johnson and Lothrop said, could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars less in support for PCTV over 10 years, and funds for local cable system upgrades and equipment could be affected as well, if the 10-year agreement has to be renegotiated.

"We are at the eleventh hour" in the contract talks, Johnson told councilors.

He asked the council to table the nominations until the contract agreement is signed. Councilors agreed. Johnson said he did not know when the new contract could be signed, but that that it could happen soon.

Also this week, the council unanimously approved Council President Melissa Mazzeo's three nominees to a study group that will review all city ordinances for compliance with the new city charter, approved Nov. 5 by voters.

Mazzeo nominated David Murphy, Victoria Kane and former City Clerk Jody L. Phillips to the committee. They will join current Clerk Linda Tyer, a de facto committee member, and Councilor at large Barry Clairmont, who was appointed earlier.

To reach Jim Therrien:,
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