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Beverly Hills Votes to Fine Cable Operator

May 12, 1988|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

In what may be the first of several setbacks for Century Southwest Cable Television Inc., the Beverly Hills City Council this week rejected an appeal by the cable operator and will fine the company $250 a day until customer services are improved to levels required in the franchise agreement.

On Monday, the West Hollywood City Council is expected to announce whether it will revoke Century's cable franchise in that city.

Meanwhile, the Santa Monica City Council is still negotiating with Century officials over a renewal of the cable franchise there.

Revocation Decision

In 1986, the Santa Monica City Council decided to revoke Century's franchise, effective December, 1987. However, the city agreed not to take any action to enforce the revocation until June 15 while both sides discuss a new franchise agreement. If agreement is not reached, the city will seek a new cable operator.

Century Southwest, a subsidiary of Century Communications Corp. in New Canaan, Conn., took over the Westside cable systems in 1986 as part of a five-company consortium that bought Group W Cable Inc. for $2.1 billion from Westinghouse Electric Corp.

Century was scheduled to take over five systems in the South Bay, but city officials there balked at the transfer, fearing that service would suffer under the new owners, which within the industry has a reputation for running a lean operation.

After a yearlong fight, Century gave up the five South Bay systems to a subsidiary of another member of the consortium. Paragon Cable operates those systems.

Since Century took over the Westside systems, subscribers have complained about poor reception, outages and inadequate responses from service representatives.

In Beverly Hills, Century will be fined $250 a day retroactive to March 15. The fine was imposed after the City Council concluded that the company had violated provisions of the franchise agreement that call for a two-minute telephone response time from service representatives and a 24-hour response time for home service calls.

A city staff report said that between March 16 and May 6 Century was not in compliance with the telephone response time standard on 23 days and that between March 16 and April 30 the company was not in compliance with the time standard for trouble calls on 46 days.

Company's Argument

William Rosendahl, vice president of Century, argued unsuccessfully that the company has improved its numbers since it was first notified of the potential fines in March. He said that the standards are probably the toughest of any franchise agreement in the country and that until the antiquated cable system can be rebuilt, it will be difficult to meet the standards 100% of the time.

But council members argued that the company had agreed to the tough standards when the franchise was renewed last year and should abide by the standards.

The daily fine will continue to be assessed until city officials are satisfied that the problems have been corrected.

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