Triax Cablevision requested the public hearing as part of the formal negotiation process required by federal com-munication laws. Several speakers noted the absence of a representative from Triax, despite the hundreds of cable subscribers in Paynesville.
Bill Fuchs told the city council, “I think it’s unfortunate that you are the complaint department for Triax Cablevision. “
Without representation from Triax, attending the hearing Fuchs said “seems kind of pointless.”
Almost 20 citizens attended the hearing, and around 12 addressed the council. Complaints ranged from price to signal quality to program selection to the company’s unresponsiveness.
The only positive point made about the company at the meeting was the local servicemen. “I have no arguments with the local people. They’re terrific,” said Marilyn Guenther. Several others expressed their agreement on this.
But dealing with the company, they testified, was another matter. One point of contention was programming selection. Recently, Triax included the Disney Channel in its basic package, but raised the rate and removed FX. Rhonda Larson said she does not care to watch Disney, but liked FX. “Being we’re paying for it, I think we should choose,” she said.
Exactly how Triax determines which channels to offer puzzled many people at the hearing. They know they claim to take market surveys, but no one at the hearing expressed any satisfaction that their wants were being considered. Fuchs likened it to censorship.
The anonymity of Triax bothered Jeff Youngs. “It feels like someone else, somewhere else--I don’t know where, I don’t know who--is determining what I can see,” he said.
Signal quality and frequent interruptions also drew criticism. Shirley Sand described the reception as terrible, with snowy pictures and bad sound. And Jan Madsen said the signal cuts always seemed to happen at the most suspenseful part of a movie. She’s tired of explanations to the causes, and ready for remedies. “Where does the money go?” she asked. “The rates go up, and you’re getting nothing.”
That concern was addressed again by Terry Nichols and others. Nichols called the current technology antiquated and wondered if we can get pictures from the moon why can’t we get them from Minneapolis. Only some of the current channels have Dolby surround sound. He asked if the cable signal would be improved to accommodate High Definition television sets. “If you plan on extending their contract 15 years, I’d like to know if they’ll be keeping up with technology,” he said.
Another complaint was cost. Don Torbenson reported that Triax charged the historical society $1,500 in advance to reconnect their cable when the museum moved to the east end of town. The power and telephone companies donated their time because the museum is nonprofit.
Bev Mueller, representing the Paynesville Area Health Care System, explained their frustration in dealing with the company. Many residents and patients would enjoy watching the Vikings or the Twins, and little things like that can really improve everyday life. But Triax wanted to charge the system for every outlet, making the total cost $32,000 per year. Efforts to have only cable access in lobbies and some rooms have gone nowhere, Mueller said.
After checking with other towns, John Teicher reported many received ten or more additional channels at a lower cost. Nichols, who used to live in Rochester, and John Peyerl, who used to live in St. Cloud, both felt they got better signals at lower costs previously. “I think we’re getting substandard cable,” said Teicher.
The council was generally sympathetic to the people’s complaints and stressed the importance of documenting problems and concerns. Because of the capital expense involved in starting cable service and with the help from the cable companies’ lobbying effort, the termination of a cable contract cannot be done on a whim. “We must show cause,” said Dennis Wilde, city administrator. Wilde reported that Belgrade had renewed its contract with Triax, despite some reservations, because they didn’t want to complete the process.
“We need documentation to strengthen our hand when we go in to renegotiate,” said council member David Peschong.
Complaints can be made by calling Triax toll free at 1-800-332-0245, but most of the audience at the public hearing claimed to have tried and to have had trouble reaching a human responder. “When you call, you can’t get through to talk with them,” said Sand. “I even came to city hall and asked if there was a secret number.”
When one council member suggested calling Triax and registering complaints about the removal of FX, someone in the audience responded, “You mean, again?”
The city council will host another public hearing on the cable issue on Thursday, Feb. 11 at the Paynesville Area Center.
The city’s cable contract doesn’t expire until the summer of 2001. After the hearings, Triax can make an initial proposal if interested in renewing their cable franchise here. After review, the city council can decide if the proposal meets the city’s needs. If they deny the proposal, they must have reasons.
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