N.Y. Firm Takes Over Troubled Cable TV Operation in 4 Cities

Times Staff Writer

When City Councilman George Cole learned that the cable television company serving the city was being taken over by another firm, he breathed a sigh of relief.

Cole said he had been on the verge of filing suit against the company as chairman of the Bell-Cudahy Cable Television Authority.

Last Friday, the cable holdings of Masada Communications Ltd., which has operated a franchise for Bell and Cudahy under the name of Premiere Cable Co. since 1986, were sold to New York-based Insight Communications, said Karen Kennedy, Premiere's assistant general manager.

The cable operators will continue to serve customers in Bell and Cudahy, but under the new name, Insight Cablevision, Kennedy said. The franchise also serves Artesia and Claremont, where its offices and studios are located.

'A Shoddy Operation'

"They were a shoddy operation," Cole said this week of the service under Masada's management. "I wanted to sue them because I felt they were violating good faith implied in the (franchise) contract," which was signed by the cable authority and Premiere in August, 1986. The contract calls for the cities to receive a share of the cable revenues in return for giving the company an exclusive franchise.

Kennedy acknowledges that the cable franchise under Masada encountered serious problems with the city.

But for the last several months, she said, representatives of the new owner have been meeting with the cable authority to iron out the difficulties.

Cole said the sale by Masada could not have come at a better time. At present, only 10% of the households in both cities have cable access, and a growing number of subscribers are threatening to drop out because the company has failed to answer their complaints, he said.

Slow Service

Cole charged that cable reception has often been inferior, installation and general service to the company's 1,095 subscribers sometimes takes weeks, and the company's efforts to sign up new customers has been minimal at best.

Two weeks ago, the five-member Bell City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for the cable authority to approve the franchise sale, which it had the right to do under its contract with Premiere.

The past problems were so frustrating for the community, Cole said, that the council also drafted a consumer protection ordinance that will be up for council approval at its next meeting.

The proposed ordinance would require that the cable firm keep a certain number of technicians and operators on duty to respond to complaints, and it calls for the firm to respond to problems by a certain time. The ordinance is similar to a tough consumer protection law passed in El Monte, he said.

In sometimes long and heated debates with representatives from the new firm, Cole said, the authority has received assurances that the problems subscribers had with the former franchisers will not be repeated under the new ownership.

"It's been really frustrating. Tempers have been high," Cole said.

Last week, the authority mailed out questionnaires that asked residents of Bell and Cudahy to comment on the quality of their cable service. The questionnaires--prepared before news of the franchise sale--were originally to be used to substantiate the lawsuit that the authority was considering.

Cole said both cities have received some of the questionnaire responses, but they have yet to be reviewed.

Tougher Standards

Kennedy, spokeswoman for the new firm, said Insight Communications officials are willing to comply with tougher standards. "We're all looking positively to a new beginning and a new start," she said.

"We went through many construction problems," said Kennedy, referring to the fact that Premiere did not begin installation for almost a year after the original franchise agreement was signed.

She also promised that under Insight's direction, a studio will be built for use by Bell and Cudahy as a community access channel and an aggressive advertising campaign will be launched to make subscribers aware of the new service. "The marketing approach by Masada did not turn out to be successful. Insight is coming out with new approaches that hopefully will bring in new customers," Kennedy said.

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