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The city isn’t playing fair with the proposed cable franchise agreement with Windstream, according to its sole cable provider Time Warner.

Time Warner is constitutionally and contractually entitled to a level playing field, said Bill Austin, a Lincoln attorney representing Time Warner, during a Monday night public hearing on the proposed Windstream agreement.

The Windstream proposal is more favorable or less burdensome than the franchise agreement with Time Warner, he said.

That specifically violates a section of the Time Warner franchise agreement that requires the city to have agreements with new cable providers that are not “more favorable or less burdensome when taken as a whole” compared to the Time Warner agreement.

Austin listed several specific areas where Windstream is getting a better deal, including public access capital needs, the public access studio requirements, the government education grant and service area requirements.

The two franchise agreements are not identical, but they are comparable, “when taken as a whole,” said Steve Huggenberger, an assistant city attorney who works on cable issues.

That is what the Time Warner franchise agreement requires, he said.

The council is expected to vote on the franchise agreement at its Jan. 5 meeting. If approved, Lincoln would become one of the few cities in the country with competing cable services.

Time Warner has to provide service to the entire city while Windstream would be allowed to start with service to about 45 percent of the city and serve just 80 percent of city households by the end of the 15-year franchise period, Austin noted.

The city modeled the service area requirements on Omaha’s franchise agreement with its cable provider CenturyLink, which has a “market-driven trigger for expansion,” responded Huggenburger.

He also refuted several of the Time Warner issues, including:

* Windstream would be obligated to provide four public education and government channels, but Time Warner’s requirement is five channels, Austin said. Time Warner is only providing four of those channels now and “we are trying to figure out a way to do away with that (fifth) channel,” Huggenberger said.

* Windstream would be required to provide $4 per subscriber every five years for the public access capital needs, while Time Warner must provide $200,000 in each of the three five-year periods of its contract, Austin said.

Huggenberger said Time Warner has refused to provide the number of its subscribers. The $200,000 payment is based on 50,000 customers, although the city believes Time Warner has 75,000 to 80,000 Lincoln subscribers. That works out to be $4 per subscriber every five years for 50,000 subscribers, he said.

If the contract is approved in January, Windstream should be able to begin offering service to about 50,000 Lincoln households in the spring -- April, May or early June, said Bryan Brooks, with Windstream.

Windstream will be able to provide the new service, called Kinetic, to about 45 percent of the city households initially, based on the Windstream bandwidth to the home.

The company is expected to expand its service so that at least 80 percent of the city households could get the service within the next 15 years.

A retired University of Nebraska-Lincoln computer science professor suggested the 15-year contract is too long for today’s fast-changing technology.

No one knows what the future will bring, said Don Costello during the public hearing.

“Technology is moving so fast you can’t talk about 15 years. It is impossible to look out for all the stakeholders when you have a 15-year contract,” he said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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