La. Parish Seeks Cable Alternative

St. John the Baptist Parish, an area of 50,000 residents 20miles outside of New Orleans, has elected to bring competition to its local cable market.

At its Sept. 28 meeting, the Parish Council voted to beginnegotiating a possible cable franchise with a local telecommunications-services providerthat wants to compete for Time Warner Cable's area video subscribers.

Reserve Telecommunications has petitioned the council for afranchise that would allow it to build a network capable of delivering cable, telephoneand high-speed Internet services.

"What we're telling Reserve [with the vote] isthat we're willing to negotiate the use of our rights-of-way, or whatever isnecessary," council member Joel McTopy said.

McTopy added that the Parish Council hopes allowing Reserveto compete with Time Warner will at least encourage the MSO to hold the line on localcable rates.

In recent years, he said, area residents have complainedabout rate hikes that were not accompanied by increases in Time Warner's programminglineup. "Our constituents are telling us they want competition," he added.

Time Warner acquired the local system from RiverlandsCablevision in 1996.

In the most recent confrontation between the MSO and localofficials, the Parish Council challenged Time Warner's 1998 rate hike, which added anestimated $1 per month to local cable bills.

Local Time Warner officials did not return calls forcomment by press time.

"As far as I'm concerned, Time Warner'sservice has been very good," McTopy said. "So I'm not here to say that theyhaven't been good neighbors. But it's an economic consideration. Peopledidn't feel they were getting value for their money."

The situation has been made worse by the perception thatresidents of nearby St. Charles, Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard parishes werereceiving more programming from Cox Communications Inc.

"The real issue is that Cox offers much more extensiveservice, at the same price or less," council member Duaine Duffy told New Orleansnewspaper The Times-Picayune. "It's been a constant complaint."