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Beverly Hills May Impose Fine on Cable Firm Over Alleged Franchise Violations

February 18, 1988|ROSANNE KEYNAN | Times Staff Writer

The City of Beverly Hills intends to notify Century Southwest Cable Television that it will seek damages from the firm if it continues to fail to comply with the terms of its franchise agreement, city officials said this week.

"As far as I'm concerned, they are not complying with anything," said Mayor Benjamin H. Stansbury Jr. in a study session before Tuesday's City Council meeting. "It's time just to go after them."

At the meeting, the council informally decided to notify Century in writing of its intention to impose a fine of $250 a day--as it is authorized to do under a provision of the franchise agreement--until the firm conforms to requirements.

The franchise permits Century to file an appeal with the City Council within 10 days.

City Attorney's Report

A report by City Atty. Gregory W. Stepanicich recommended that the city write to Century. The report cited Century's failure to provide adequate telephone response to customers and to comply with other minimum customer-service standards as established under the agreement.

When informed of Stansbury's statement and the council's intention, Century Vice President William J. Rosendahl said: "The mayor does not know his facts. We are in full compliance with the franchise agreement.

"If the mayor can substantiate his facts, I'm open to hearing what his complaints are. We are committed to customer service. We have a great staff in place and I feel we're doing a good job. I can't say anything further until I see the letter."

The cable firm is under fire from West Hollywood officials for similar complaints of franchise violations. The city's cable administrator, Ian Tanza, said Tuesday in a telephone interview that although Century has somewhat improved its response time on phone calls, the firm has been "grossly negligent" in filing monthly progress reports on its efforts to rebuild the cable system, as required in the franchise agreement with West Hollywood.

Tanza said the city will have to conduct more than the two signal-quality tests it normally conducts each year. "I've been to about 15 locations," he said, "and they've got some bad picture out there--some real bad signal quality.

"I've conducted a franchise analysis and come up with options which are all confidential, because they concern matters that might involve potential litigation."

'Testing Constantly'

Upon hearing of Tanza's statement, Rosendahl said: "I'm delighted to hear him say the phones are working. We've followed through with the commitment I publicly made.

"As for signal quality, this is the first I've heard of (the problem). Our people are testing constantly. I'd like to see what particulars he is referring to and, of course, I'd put a technical person on it."

Century is the target of many complaints in Los Angeles as well, according to Susan Herman, general manager of the city's Department of Telecommunications. Of the 12 cable providers whose franchises she administers, Herman said, "Century accounts for about 45% of all customer calls." She said the majority of calls concerned poor reception and outages from an antiquated system, which will be rebuilt.

Despite its problems, Century has entered franchise negotiations with the City of Santa Monica. "The agreement in Santa Monica is close to resolution," Rosendahl said. "We are looking forward to positive council action at the March 8 (City Council) meeting."

Santa Monica's chief cable negotiator, Assistant City Manager Lynne C. Barrette, could not be reached for comment. Earlier this month she had said that the experiences of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood could prove useful in preventing similar problems in her city. Barrette also said she would present "a lengthy report on all issues to be included in the franchise agreement" at the next City Council meeting.

Times staff writer Julio Moran contributed to this report.

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