It will not be business as usual with cable television in Provo, according to both sides negotiating a new franchise agreement with TCI Cablevision of Utah Inc.
The city has fielded enough complaints to know many Provo residents are unhappy with the kind of service TCI has provided in the past several years. Provo adopted a new cable-television ordinance in November and is negotiating a new contract with TCI. Both are expected to guarantee better service in the future.TCI has hired a new general manager in the Provo office, Paul Venturella. He agrees that TCI has not provided the level of service in Provo expected by many people and said changes are already being made.
TCI is also planning to upgrade the entire system if the franchise agreement is renewed for a long enough period of time, Venturella said.
Venturella began work in Provo at the first of the year. He has worked in cable television for 15 years but has worked for TCI only part of that time. He was general manager for TCI in Price for five years before accepting a promotion that involved a move to California. Venturella requested a transfer back to Utah.
Before Venturella arrived at the Provo office, residents of several areas of Provo where cable TV is not available received letters from TCI asking if they would share in the cost of bringing cable to their neighborhoods.
The residents were given an estimated cost based on 47 percent participation - the estimated number of households that would subscribe to cable - in their neighborhood with a note that the amount would increase or decrease depending on the number of people participating.
The estimated cost varied from a few hundred dollars to well over $1,000, depending on the cost of laying cable in a particular neighborhood.
The letter also said: "Please be advised that we are also in the process of renewing our franchise with Provo City. When the franchise renewal is complete, our intent is to construct cable in your area without the need of cost sharing from residents."
So far, TCI has not received a single response from a Provo resident willing to help pay the capital costs of laying cable line.
Dell and Kay Cox received one of the letters. "They said they wanted us to share the cost. It was over $1,000," Kay Cox said. "Who would pay a thousand dollars to set cable up for them to make tons of money? I'd buy me a satellite dish."
"They gave us three options," said Sharon Bateman, who also received a letter. You could mark not interested; willing to share the cost, as given in the letter; or "would be willing to subscribe at a higher cost if cable was installed." Bateman said she could buy a satellite dish for the amount of money quoted in the letter.
Venturella said he is not surprised that Provo residents are not willing to pay the cost of bringing cable to their houses. If he were in their place, he wouldn't pay either. Venturella said the letter was written to comply with a request from the city to inform residents that service could be available in areas without cable television on a cost-sharing basis.
City Attorney Gary Gregerson said some of the areas that received the letters should not be required to share capital costs according to the contract signed by TCI 25 years ago. Although the contract expired Dec. 31, it has been extended for a month while negotiations for a new contract continue.
The contract allows a cable company to charge subscribers if there are unusual circumstances such as a low density of subscribers or a distance of 150 feet from a distribution cable.
Venturella said cable would be taken to all developed parts of the city if the franchise agreement is extended for a long enough period of time and the system would be upgraded for greater capacity.
Service improvements are already in place or will be soon. "Our telephones are now answered by a TCI employee 24 hours a day and not by an answering service," Venturella said. By Feb. 15, the customer service representatives will have a computer system for service calls and billing.
In the past, an outage in Provo was defined as three or more people calling to say their cable was out. "That doesn't meet my definition of service," Venturella said. "Now if one person's cable is out, we go fix it."