SIKESTON - After years of short extensions to a former agreement, a long-term franchise agreement with Charter Communications was finally adopted by the Sikeston City Council during their regular meeting Monday.
The franchise agreement is for 10 years with an additional five-year auto-renewal if the service remains satisfactory, according to Charles Leible, city counselor.
Under the terms of the agreement, Charter will provide two public access channels and the city will receive a 5-percent franchise fee, the maximum allowed under law, bringing in approximately $80,000 per year.
As the agreement is non-exclusive, other cable companies are welcome to do business in Sikeston although they will need their own lines as Charter's are not public domain.
Leible said there are also two "sidebar agreements" not included in the actual franchise agreement in which Charter agreed to provide Internet access to all school buildings and six city-owned or designated buildings; and to pay a $5,000 franchise renewal fee to cover the city's cost of researching the franchise agreement.
Before adopting the bill authorizing the agreement, however, council members first heard from residents with concerns about Charter's service.
Mitchell Jackson, Sikeston resident and pastor of the Miner Baptist Church, voiced concerns over nudity viewed at around 8 p.m. on the Bravo channel which is included in the extended basic cable package. "If it was in my house, it was in any other house in the community," Jackson said, adding there is a need for a family-friendly package.
Carl Crow of Sikeston said he would like the see a complete listing for basic cable in The Standard Democrat instead of only 32 channels.
Addressing the second question first, Dave Huntsman, general manager for Charter Communications in Sikeston, responded by explaining the newspaper purchases the listing for their customers, and has only opted to purchase a listing of 32 channels.
"I can pick any 32 and put them in there," Huntsman said of the listing.
He recommended Charter's electronic guide available for $5.95 per month or looking up channel listings on the Internet at tvguide.com.
Turning to the pastor's concern over prime-time nudity, Huntsman said his company provides "family programming as well as questionable."
He described the Bravo channel as offering "international films," and said that the FCC has determined the material mentioned as permissible after 9 p.m., and since the programming came from an Eastern time zone feed, it was legal even though it actually appeared in the 8 p.m. slot.
"We do provide ways of locking this out," Huntsman added, advising that customer can rent the digital cable boxes for the parental control features without subscribing to digital service.
A "family package" would not be feasible for Charter, according to Huntsman, adding that programming choices are "based on viewing not morality" and that a morality-based package would likely not include very many channels.
Sikeston resident Jeff Sutton then asked Huntsman about the cable line that has laid in his yard for four months. "I'd like to mow my lawn but I can't because you won't bury the line," he said.
Councilman Michael Harris said his cable line has been in his yard for almost a year.
Huntsman said there are about 300 cable drops on the ground around the city and that they were delayed by winter weather. "We hope to have these 300 done in 30 days," he said.
He said they have three outside crews contracted for burying drops along with one in-house crew. By July, Huntsman predicted, drops will only lay on the ground a week at the most before being buried.
In related action, council members also adopted a bill establishing procedures for the operation of telecable franchises, setting the minimum standards for any company doing telecommunication business within the city.