What’s on the table

Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene maintains that local media are doing more harm than good by publishing parts of a draft franchise contract between the county and Charter Communications. The document doesn’t represent any actual agreement between the two parties at this point, and many elements are still in flux, she said last week.

The public, notes Greene, has already had two opportunities to offer opinions on what they wanted out of the cable-TV agreement — and the county has responded to that input.

The amended July 2 draft, she asserts, merely presents information that the two sides are considering.

“Basically, you’re looking at a document that there’s no agreement around,” says Greene. “It’s a meaningless document at this point.”

With those caveats, here are some highlights of the draft, which calls for Charter to do the following:

• pay the county a franchise fee equal to 5 percent of gross revenues (estimated at $1.1 million annually);

• provide two dedicated access channels for public, educational and government programming. Once those channels were half filled with nonrepetitive, locally produced programming, Charter would provide a third channel;

• pay the county a one-time PEG grant of $340,000 in the first year (Charter would reserve the right to pass that cost on to customers by increasing rates no more than 25 cents per month);

• pay Buncombe County a PEG support fee starting at 30 cents per customer per month ($122,400 annually); the fee would rise as high as 50 cents per customer per month as the amount of repetitive programming decreased. Charter would also reserve the right to pass those fees on to its customers;

• provide four “fibers” linking county administrative offices with two current and two future county buildings at no cost to the county;

• provide the Buncombe County Schools with a 10-megabit-per-second Internet connection at a cost of $3,255 per month (half the standard rate);

• give at least a 30-percent discount on any other service it provides to any Buncombe County agency (including the county schools) or the Asheville City Schools; and

• provide high-speed Internet access to all 25 fire departments at the 50-percent discounted rate of $2,498 per month; any fire department could opt out, and the cost would drop by 1/25th.

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