City Council sets timetable for cable television ordinance

City Council sets timetable for cable television ordinance by David Lias The Vermillion City Council has put a timetable in effect to eventually create what it hopes will be a level playing field for two cable television companies that want to do business in the city.

Vermillion currently receives cable television service from Zylstra Communications. That company's franchise in the city will expire in October, but the firm has demonstrated that it wants to have its franchise renewed here.

Last April, Zylstra Communications announced plans to invest $6 million to rebuild its existing cable television systems in Vermillion and Yankton.

The upgrades, when completed, will allow Zylstra to expand its channel capacity, offer high speed Internet access, provide pay per view events, and offer other enhanced telecommunication services.

Zylstra evidently will be receiving competition in the city soon, for Dakota Telecommunications Group (DTG) has indicated a desire to also offer cable television services in Vermillion.

City Manager Jeff Pederson told the city council Monday that since early last spring, city council committee and staff members have been working on formulating a franchise agreement that would be fair and hopefully acceptable to both cable companies.

"The committee has been thinking of the mechanics of franchises at this point," he said. "And what we're trying to do, when it's all over, is have a level playing field."

The proposed new cable television ordinance for Vermillion has been in "a drafting stage" for a time now as city officials discuss its wording.

"It's time now to release the draft to the city council and to the two cable providers," Pederson said.

He noted that he recently had been in touch with DTG.

"DTG is still intending to build a new system in 1999," Pederson said. "Obviously, their hands are tied until they know whether they are going to be issued a franchise."

The timetable approved by the council Monday calls for the utilities committee to approve a draft of the franchise agreement on Wednesday, and make copies of the agreement available to city council members, Zylstra Communications and DTG.

The city council will hold a work session on the proposed franchise Jan. 11, and at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25, a public hearing will be held to receive input from the public and prospective cable providers.

The franchise ordinance will receive its first and second readings by the city council on Feb. 16 and Feb. 23 respectively.

The ordinance will then be published in the Plain Talk on March 5, and become effective on March 25.

"We are making a strong effort to mold a franchise that is workable to Zylstra and DTG," Pederson said. He added that if there were issues in the new ordinance that weren't fully acceptable to Zylstra Communications, the city's efforts on fine-tuning a workable agreement for that firm could continue until October, when its franchise in Vermillion expires.

DTG, of Irene, currently provides cable television services to 5,800 subscribers in 26 cities in three states, and has franchise proposals pending in 10 more communities.

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