In an effort to gauge what residents want in their cable communication services in the 21st century, Ventura will conduct telephone surveys and hold eight workshops starting in September.
Any recommendations from the workshops will be incorporated into the city's 15-year franchise renewal contract with its two cable providers, Century Cable and Avenue TV Cable.
The contract renewal process takes about 18 months, said Debbie Solomon, the city's community services manager. Any improvements to the cable service would come after that time.
Mayor Jim Friedman said that updating the cable equipment to a fiber-optic system could become part of the contract. Such a system is designed to provide more channels and a sharper picture.
"It may be one of the negotiating points of the contract," Friedman said. "Based on what the community wants, we may ask them what their plans are to update to fiber optics."
City-hired consultant Sue Buske, who will help facilitate the workshops, said equipment needs improvement.
"Frankly, what's there now is way, way antiquated," she said.
The discussion of cable-service improvements comes after a recent public uproar over Century Communication Corp.'s announcement that it planned to raise premium cable rates on a variety of packages from 274% to 453%. The new rates, effective Sept. 1, include an increase from $4.09 to $15.29 for a 12-channel package. The charge for an individual premium channel will climb from 45 cents a month to $2.49.
But "the rates are a separate issue from what we are doing here," Solomon said.
Instead, "the community-needs assessment we will go through will lay out what areas the current cable services are lacking," Friedman said. "I don't anticipate changes will be made overnight."
During a recent workshop, city-hired consultants predicted that service from the city's two cable companies will improve significantly in the coming years. For example, the number of government-access channels may increase, and there may be greater opportunities for residents to produce shows.
The workshops have been tentatively set for the week of Sept. 21 at a yet-to-be-determined location.