Carroll County finally has approved a new cable television agreement, with votes last week by the county commissioners and the last of its incorporated towns.
"I can't believe it. It's almost scary to be this close," said Doris White, telecommunications coordinator for the county, noting that it requires only company signatures, expected within a month.
She and other members of the Carroll County and Towns Cable TV Committee have worked almost two years, through several extensions of the contract that expired March 13, 1999, with Prestige Communications of NC Inc., of Cartersville, Ga.
Prestige won Carroll's first franchise in the early days of cable in 1984, and much has changed in the industry since then, said White. Prestige is being acquired by Adelphia Communications of Coudersport, Pa., in a sale expected to be finalized this summer.
The new agreement gives a 10-year franchise to Prestige, with a possible five-year extension, she said. In return, its obligations include:
Providing a minimum of 77 channels.
Paying an increased franchise fee, up from 3 percent to 5 percent of gross revenue.
Producing at least 20 hours a month of local programming.
Providing five PEG channels (for public, educational and government use) with an $800,000 grant for equipment and studio renovations, plus $75,000 a year for operating costs.
Providing modems for a closed-circuit linking of government offices, schools, libraries, police and other public buildings.
Extending service without cost to areas with 20 potential customers within a mile of a trunk line, and to anyone else willing to pay the cost of construction beyond the first 250 feet.
The new agreement sets possible penalties ranging from $50 to $4,000 for violations of the agreement.
Prestige does not have exclusive rights under the new agreement, so a competitor could come into the county. It serves 30,500 of 41,000 potential locations in the county, and announced a $2.50 rate increase in February.
The committee has had no say about rates since the 1996 federal Telecommunications Act deregulated the industry, White and other members have said repeatedly. But they expressed surprise that no residents attended the three public hearings since mid-March.