Aspen eyes cable system
Aspen officials have not been entirely happy with the cable television service provided by TCI of New Jersey, and tonight the City Council will take its initial look at a cable franchise renewal of only one year.
The existing cable television franchise expires in three days, on Aug. 12, and the city administration is advising the council to renew that franchise with TCI/ATT for one year while a study is done to see how feasible it might be for Aspen to run its own cable system.
The city has been talking about putting together its own cable system, in what might be a companion system to the city’s electrical power service to citizens, officials explained recently.
Over the course of the next year or so, said City Attorney John Worcester, the city and the NMPP Energy, a multistate power network (which sells power to Aspen) will be “exploring that option.” Worcester said the utility company already has helped other communities take over their cable services, and that it is “very willing” to help Aspen do the same.
He pointed out that the city already has the electric utility department and billing system in place, which could take on the added business of cable television service with little trouble.
Worcester said the city’s unhappiness with TCI stems from what he said is a system that “hasn’t got the bandwidth to meet the needs of our citizens. It’s just an outdated system, outmoded, and the technology is changing so quickly.”
With the present cable system, for example, in order for a customer to get digital television signals, TCI must take one channel out of service to install a special connection. For this, the customer pays for the installation and pays an added monthly fee, Worcester said.
In addition, the existing system is not set up to handle all the new Internet-related equipment that is being developed, particularly the ability to handle two-way communications.
“Our fear is that we’re at the end of the pipeline, and we won’t be getting all the necessary improvements” to take advantage of the new technology, Worcester explained. “And we think that’s shortsighted of the company, given the makeup of our community.”
He said TCI has offered to upgrade the city’s system to the necessary bandwidth, with two-way fiber-optic cables, by October 2001, and that negotiations between City Manager Amy Margerum and TCI/ATT will continue.
But in the meantime, the city plans to keep talking with NMPP about the possibility of taking over the cable television service.
“We’re not prepared to just extend their franchise, and still have the same old system,” Worcester said. “Maybe it’ll put a little pressure on TCI to negotiate.”
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A recent survey of Aspen residents shows that people are happy here, feel safe but are financially insecure.