City stalls transfer of Time Warner to new owner
By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Daily Leader
Time Warner Cable is on the verge of selling the local Liberal franchise to Windjammer Communications LLC. Although the commission denied the transfer due to the principle of the issue during Tuesday evening’s meeting, the transfer will still most likely happen.
Finance director Chris Ford addressed the commission with the intent of Time Warner Cable to transfer service to Windjammer Communications at least until the franchise agreement expires in 2010.
“We have recently received communications from Time Warner Cable that they are currently undergoing negotiations to sell their Liberal, Kansas location to Windjammer Communications,” Ford said. “Their sale is scheduled to be completed somewhere in the fourth quarter of 2008.”
A representative from Windjammer Communications was not on hand to hear the concerns and complaints of the current cable service.
Several commissioners felt it was bad business on the part of Windjammer Communications to ask that the commission approve the transfer under those circumstances.
“Why hasn’t Mrs. Graham (of Windjammer Communications) showed up and presented this to the commission,” commissioner Don Rash asked of Ford. “It feels like I am buying a pig in a poke, I don’t know what I’m getting.”
Ford apologized for the lack of a representative on the part of Windjammer Communications, stating that there simply wasn’t time for Belinda Graham, with whom he had been in contact with, to make the trip to Liberal.
“As far as the timing on this, it all came together within the last week or so and she is based out of Indiana,” he said. “I did ask her if there was anyway she could make it to a commission meeting and basically this was as of last week, so it was too short of notice for her to make the trip.”
With all commissioners stating that they have heard many complaints throughout the community regarding the current cable service, commissioner Larry Koochel felt this might be a good time to stand up for the community by demanding more information and making some changes.
“I think the problem is not just us but just the average cable customer. I am sick and tired of the cable service that we have got,”
Koochel said. “I can’t get OETA, four is off and the others flicker when it sprinkles just a little bit.
“I have asked and been told we can’t do anything until the franchise is up,” he added. “I think this is our opportunity to do something about it. If we are going to change, I think we are starting off bad because a company such as Windjammers doesn’t have a representative out here. I want to visit with someone, I want them in here, I want to see something in writing about what they are going to do because we are just changing one problem for another.”
Ford tried to assure the commission of the capabilities of Windjammer Communications. He stated that the company would be purchasing Time Warner Cable’s Liberal office with equity – there would be no debt involved. He also assured the commission that Windjammer Communications would make the transfer a smooth one.
“They are wanting this transaction to be as transparent as possible,”
he said. “They still want to have a local office with local employees living in our community.”
City attorney Shirla McQueen informed the commission that unless its reasons for denying the transfer were reasonable, the transfer will take place anyway. She felt the appropriate time to address the current cable problems would be when the franchise is up in 2010.
“Under the terms of the agreement, your consent cannot be unreasonably withheld so this is not an opportunity to go in and renegotiate an old problem,” she said. “Basically, if Windjammer can show that they can financially take over the operations, we still are bound until 2010 to the agreement we have negotiated.
“So with this transfer, you can’t unreasonably withhold consent to transfer,” she added. “If they come in here and don’t show a lot of improvement over the next year, they have a year to get things up and running before this commission decides whether or not to renew a franchise.”
Commissioner Dave Harrison echoed Rash and Koochel’s sentiments stating he felt someone should have been available at Tuesday evening’s commission meeting to assure the community that they will, in fact, improve the service.
“I think what Don and Larry are saying is that they would like an opportunity to voice their displeasure of the service to somebody besides Chris (Ford),” he said as he shot Ford an apologetic look. “I think that is legitimate.”
Regardless of whether or not the commission approved the transfer, according to McQueen, the transfer will most likely happen anyway.
“If the city commission opts not to approve the transfer,” she said.
“Then I would expect that they would take either regulatory or legal action to force the approval of the transfer.”
Mayor Joe Denoyer summed up what would most likely happen if the commission does not approve the transfer. He did stress that when the agreement is up in 2010, the commission would then have some leverage.
“Sounds like if we do nothing, it is basically approved, if we deny it then the FCC comes in and forces our hand,” he said. “So basically they have one year to improve services and then we have other options.”
McQueen informed the board that she felt it wasn’t the appropriate time to try and change anything until the contract is up in 2010. She also said she felt the concerns for the current cable services weren’t reason enough to deny the transfer.
“I think what it all boils down to is are all of these concerns that are being expressed, are those a valid reason for denying the transfer or an unreasonable reason to deny the transfer?” asked McQueen of the commission. “We have an agreement until 2010, and that is when those concerns need to be addressed.”
Ultimately, the commission denied the transfer with Rash, Koochel and Mayor Denoyer voting no. However, the transfer is more than likely to occur anyway.