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Late Fees Frost Albuquerque's Mayor

The mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., claims local operator Comcast Corp. has a "deadbeat mentality," as demonstrated by its late franchise-fee payments.

And Mayor Martin Chavez recently issued the MSO an ultimatum: Submit to a new franchise proposal by Jan. 15 to end four years of formal renewal negotiations.

Albuquerque's cable franchise expired in April 2000, when the city was negotiating with the system's prior owner, Jones Intercable Inc. The two parties opened talks in 1998.

During a press conference held to publicize the impasse, Chavez expressed anger over both the length of the talks and late payments by Comcast, according to press accounts. City attorney Robert White said the operator has been late with its quarterly payments at least four times.

One payment was only 10 days late, but another due in January 1999 wasn't paid until March 3, 2000, according to data White provided.

Comcast area director of government affairs Kevin Bell said the delay occurred as the system settled into Comcast's regional operation. Franchise-fee payment checks are issued from the regional office, he explained, and during the last year, Comcast restructured its regions. The checks now come from a different office.

The longest delay was only 60 days, he said. The internal restructuring is complete and the next quarterly payment, due Jan. 31, should be arrive time.

Refranchising talks, which had progressed under the city's prior administration, were stopped during last year's election campaign, said Bell.

Meanwhile, Comcast is almost done with a $100 million rebuild, a project that's not required under its old operating agreement, Bell noted.

Comcast was "caught off guard" by Chavez's criticism, but remains confident the parties can reach an amicable renewal agreement, Bell said.