Aspen will see beefed-up cable |

Aspen will see beefed-up cable

John Colson

Aspen residents will soon be getting beefed-up cable television service and much better access to the Internet, according to AT&T Cable Services.But local voters won’t be getting the expected opportunity to cast their ballots about whether or not to grant the franchise that controls that service.The Aspen City Council on Monday approved a 10-year franchise for AT&T Cable Services, after more than a year of negotiations with the cable provider, which took over from the old TCI Cablevision company.That agreement takes effect despite the cancellation of a May 2 election on the franchise, which is called for in the city charter and in the 1984 Cable Communications Policy Act passed by Congress.City Attorney John Worcester, along with AT& representatives Jim Niswender and Teri Scott, explained that a recent amendment to the act effectively eliminated the city electorate’s ability to vote on cable franchise renewals.In cases where franchises were granted to a company and that same company applied for a renewal after a given period of time, the franchise can only be denied based on very specific grounds spelled out in the legislation, explained Scott.She said Congress agreed with the cable industry that to allow voters to withhold a renewal, or cancel a franchise based on “arbitrary” reasoning would be unfair to the companies that had spent considerable money and time installing a cable system. An election, she said, is not one of the grounds spelled out in the legislation.As a result, the May 2 election has been canceled.The franchise agreement calls for AT&T to upgrade the current 440-megahertz system to 775 MHz, which AT&T representatives said is far better in quality than most towns of Aspen’s size can expect.The new system will be one-third fiber-optic and two-thirds coaxial cable, but the representatives guaranteed that all AT&T customers would experience a marked increase in the quality of service.Scott said the improved facilities would improve basic television service, but more importantly, would provide vastly improved access to the Internet for customers.

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