Mayor optimistic, but impatient; Mediacom promises improvements are in store

Mayor optimistic, but impatient; Mediacom promises improvements are in store by David Lias Mayor William Radigan admits his patience has worn a bit thin.

Mediacom, Vermillion's cable television provider, has had plenty of time to make improvements to the city's cable TV system.

So far, the company has, at best, used a piecemeal approach with poor results, in Radigan's view.

Radigan is especially upset that Cable channel 3 � designed to be a source of community announcements to local viewers � has been dark for most of the time since Mediacom was granted the cable franchise.

"That channel should be up and running, and it just isn't. In my opinion, they are having equipment problems. I really feel that they've got to go further, for example, instead of just putting in a part, they've got to put in a unit, and they're reluctant right now to do that," Radigan said. "To me, it's part of the agreement when they accepted our ordinance that they would

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do that."

Mohan Samlal, Mediacom area plant manager from Spencer, IA, said in a telephone interview with the Plain Talk last week that the problems with channel 3 will be corrected soon.

The ordinance, which was granted Sept. 20, 1999, lays out specific requirements to be met by Zylstra Communications of Yankton, which was Vermillion's cable television provider at the time.

Shortly after the nonexclusive franchise agreement was met between the city and Zylstra, the cable company was purchased by Mediacom.

"I talked to that company extensively, and they have agreed to take the ordinance and go through and see what they need to do to comply with it," Radigan said. "When they accepted our franchise, they agreed to our ordinance, and I think they should stand corrected if they don't do that. In other words, if we allow them to deviate from the ordinance, if we get another company in here, how much do we let them to deviate from the ordinance?"

Mediacom has been taking steps that eventually will lead to a state-of-the-art cable television system in Vermillion, Samlal said.

Radigan said he knows from the comments he's received from Vermillion citizens that he's not the only person unhappy with the local cable TV lineup.

"I'm hearing from people that they (Mediacom) do very well from the line into their house for repairs and stuff, but some of the stuff that comes over the major line does not meet people's expectations.," Radigan said. "Some of the channeling doesn't meet people's expectations. In other words, they aren't getting some of the good channels like they thought they would."

Vermillion people who travel out of town to visit friends and relatives can see first-hand that, in many ways, Vermillion's cable television is inferior.

"We have a constant comparison to other towns that we have to deal with in as much as what those people get for so many dollars," Radigan said. "And those are the things that I think we have to resolve with this company."

Radigan is optimistic, after recent conversations with Mediacom officials, that improvements will occur here fairly soon.

"I really feel they are willing to work with us, and I'll see if I get some things set straight," he said.

One of the first things that Mediacom has accomplished since its purchase of the Zylstra property is to construct a new state-of-the-art "head end" near Gayville.

The head-end, made up of a row of satellite dishes, can easily be seen from Highway 50. "It will serve as the brain center where the electronics will be processed for all of the signals that will be distributed to Vermillion and Yankton," Samlal said. "It will be serving Vermillion and Yankton via a fiber-optic link. That fiber optic link has been laid. Vermillion now is slated to be rebuilt. That means the entire amplifiers, the entire electronics, the entire circuitry, the entire technical specifications of the entire town is slated to be rebuilt, and to be upgraded to accommodate more channels."

The work, Samlal said, is scheduled to begin later this summer in Vermillion. "We hope to have the work completed before the snow flies," he said.

Radigan said a second cable television company doing business in the city, such as DTG/McLeodUSA, would be beneficial. The city council, however, drafting a detailed cable television ordinance last year to insure systems would be operated correctly.

"I think competition has made this country, and if we have competition, it will make for better service," Radigan said. "On the other hand, I think our ordinance is set up so that if we end up with just one company, if we make the company that is here comply with the ordinance, I think we will have good service.

"I believe it is a fine ordinance, that it was fine-tuned to take care of most of the problems that are showing up, and I also think that what they (Mediacom) are running into are problems with equipment that is either worn out or phased out," Radigan added. "Rather than just insert small parts into the units, they may have to put the entire units in, and I think up to now they are reluctant to do so."

Radigan believes Mediacom officials will eventually discuss Vermillion's cable television situation with the city council.

"I think it's probably going to happen, but I don't know when. At the present time, I feel that I have to let these people get organized as to where they are at and what their problems are, and what it is going to take to cure them," he said. "When they come to council, then, they could give us the full book of where we're at when it comes to our ordinance."

If everything goes smoothly, Mediacom could be offering more than 100 digital and analog cable television channels in Vermillion by the end of the year.

They will be offered in different packages, such as basic, expanded basic, pay per view and digital.

The basic package would cover channels 2 through 13. The expanded basic, Samlal said, will range from channel 14 to channel 75 or 80.

"Everything will be packaged differently," he said. "The prices I can't give you just yet, because the prices can vary from time to time."

Mediacom presently is offering high speed cable Internet cable access in Yankton, and will be doing the same in Vermillion.

The service, he said, will make 56k modems used on phone lines obsolete.

"From what I've been told, the speed of this is instantaneous � it's like right after you begin to download, suddenly it's there on your computer," Samlal said. "You can download, say, the Library of Congress in one-fourth the time it will take you using a 56k modem. It is very, very fast."

High speed Internet access will be implemented in Vermillion as soon as the system is rebuilt to allow the complete of transport of data.

"This work will be done sometime in the first quarter of 2001 � a safe bet," Samlal said.

Mediacom doesn't offer telephone service, but may add it sometime in the future.

Samlal added that Mediacom is committed to customer service, and he plans to implement services, such as an on-call procedure, that will be responsive to the needs of the community.

"The plans are there, it's just that everything can't be done overnight," Samlal.

He promises that good things soon will be in store for Vermillion.

"Work will begin in late summer or early fall, and we should be able to do it in 60 days," Samlal said.

"I think they have knowledge now that we have some deep concerns and they are going to have to take some actions, and I really think we will get some action now," Radigan said. "They may say that they won't be able to fix things for five months, but I think they'll get back to us and let us know exactly what the situation is."

"The plans are very, very positive and I'm very optimistic about Vermillion and I'm looking forward to an excellent working relationship with the subscriber base down there because I plan to deliver on these promises," Samlal said. "I'm optimistic that things are going to get done and get done right."

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