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W. Hollywood Vote Jeopardizes Cable Franchise

May 19, 1988|RON RUSSELL | Times Staff Writer

Brushing aside a last-minute plea, the West Hollywood City Council on Monday voted to revoke Century Southwest Cable Television's franchise unless the company improves its performance within six months.

By a unanimous vote, the five-member council approved a resolution accusing the company of violating the terms of its franchise--which industry sources estimate is worth at least $24 million--by failing to meet technical standards and customer service commitments.

Given Six Months

The action gives Century, which provides cable television to 12,000 West Hollywood households, six months to remedy any purported non-compliance or face the prospect of being stripped of its license.

"The council wanted to send a clear message for (the company) to get its act together, and I think it accomplished that," said City Manager Paul Brotzman.

A disappointed William J. Rosendahl, Century's vice president, called the decision "bewildering" and insisted that the cable company "is in full compliance" with the franchise agreement.

"I thought we had worked out all of the differences between us and the city," he said. "I'm stunned."

Last month, a negotiated settlement seemed possible after city officials and company representatives reached tentative agreement on a so-called "memorandum of understanding," which spelled out certain improvements Century agreed to make.

But sentiment on the council remained strong to proceed with the revocation process, and the agreement was never signed.

Cable subscribers have complained about poor picture quality, frequent service interruptions and inefficiency by the company's customer service representatives since Century assumed the franchise in January, 1987.

The complaints intensified last November after the company began installing high-tech converter boxes that impaired the remote control and programming features of videocassette recorders and "cable-ready" television sets.

A city-commissioned study of the cable franchise, released in March, said that Century failed to meet minimum Federal Communications Commission technical standards at 14 of 15 locations tested.

Non-existent Conditions

In a futile attempt to convince the council to drop the revocation idea, Rosendahl insisted at Monday's meeting that conditions noted in the study report no longer exist, and that the resolution, as well as the report, were "filled with factual inaccuracies.

"As far as we're concerned, we're in full compliance and we're doing a great job for the city," he said.

His remarks drew a sharp rebuttal from Councilman John Heilman, an outspoken critic of the cable company, who called the company's customer service "abominable."

"There may have been some improvement, but, basically, when you start at zero percent and improve it somewhat, that's nowhere close to satisfactory," Heilman said.

In moving against Century, the council also gave the company until Monday to pay a $10,000 penalty assessed against it in March to recover expenses officials said the city has incurred since its dispute with the company began last year.

The council's action followed a decision last week by the City of Beverly Hills to fine Century $250 a day until customer service is improved to levels required in the company's franchise agreement there.

"(Century) has been kind of unlucky lately," said a West Hollywood official who did not want to be identified.

He was referring to an incident two weeks ago in which a technical malfunction 10 minutes into the broadcast caused a live call-in show on the company's public affairs channel to be interrupted.

At the time of the mishap, the guest, Councilman Heilman, had just begun to answer a viewer's question about the plight of the company's cable service.

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