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Cable rate hike coming

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

SIKESTON - Despite Charter Communications' choice of

actor-comedian Dan Aykroyd as their new advertising

spokesman, Sikeston Charter Cable customers aren't

likely to find a coming price hike very funny.

Charter Communications announced in September they

will raise rates $3.95 a month for expanded basic

cable service for St. Louis-area customers, according

to a Sept. 26 St. Louis Post-Dispatch business section

article.

Dave Huntsman, general manager for Charter

Communications in Sikeston, confirmed Sikeston

customers, too, "will see a rate increase in that

range" sometime in December or January as rate

increases are planned for Charter cable customers

"across the whole nation."

According to the St. Louis-Dispatch, Charter had

planned to increase rates in St. Louis and St. Louis

County on Nov. 1 but postponed the effective date to

Dec. 1 after the terrorist attacks on New York and

Washington.

Huntsman said the price increase for Sikeston area

customers will be announced when the exact amount is

set.

Customers typically are always "upset with any kind of

rate increase," said Huntsman. He said Charter is

offering additional programming and services such as

digital cable and stereo sound as well as having

recently completed system upgrades and rebuilds in

Sikeston and other markets. "This is just something we

foresee needs to be done for us."

In June, Huntsman dealt with complaints from area

residents who received higher cable bills as a result

of Charter "collapsing" existing plans into a new

price structure. Backdated credits were promised for

Sikeston area customers who were billed for expanded

cable but only wanted basic cable.

Doug Friend, city manager, said he has seen the

article regarding Charter cable price hikes but

declined to offer comment as the city had not received

any word of it yet. The city must be advised 30 days

prior to the price being raised, according to Friend.

Charter Communications purchased Falcon Cable in

November 1999. A long-term franchise agreement with

Charter Communications was delayed again in favor of

another extension of the existing franchise agreement

through Dec. 4 during an Aug. 20 special City Council

meeting.

Huntsman has said his company is hoping to reach a

10-year franchise agreement with the city rather than

continuing the yearly extensions used for the last

eight years.

Negotiations for a long-term franchise agreement had

been put on hold while city officials waited for

Charter to complete their system upgrades and for city

staff to research recent cable franchise agreements.

The current franchise agreement is nearly 20 years

old.

"City staff and representatives of Charter have a

meeting scheduled near the end of October to discuss

various franchise renewal options," said Friend.

Charter Communications' purchase of Falcon Cable also

resulted in Charter taking over Falcon's management of

Enstar Properties' cable systems in cities including

Dexter, Bloomfield and Poplar Bluff - a practice

Charter prefers to avoid. "Charter has been looking to

sell the Enstar properties since November 1999," said

Huntsman.

Mark Stidham, Dexter's city administrator, said Dexter

and Bloomfield are "just at the preliminary stage" of

bidding on their cable system.

"We sent a non-binding letter of intent," said

Stidham. "We're just sort of waiting." Stidham said

this is the third letter of intent they have

submitted.

Dexter and Bloomfield offered to pay a set amount per

subscriber, but Stidham declined to give a ballpark

figure as there are other parties bidding on the

system as well.

Unlike the Sikeston system which was recently

upgraded, the Dexter-Bloomfield area cable system is

older and will require a lot of capital investment,

according to Stidham.

Stidham said in the event the cities are able to buy

the system, they would probably hire a firm to manage

and upgrade the system "and bring it up to par before

we even attempt to manage a cable company ourselves."

Poplar Bluff's offer to purchase their cable system

was accepted in August, according to Huntsman.

Information from a Sept. 26 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

business section article by Jerri Stroud was used for

this story.