Subcommittee recommends Falcon-TCI agreement


In a preview of the city’s negotiating position when it decides whether to renew Falcon cable television’s franchise in February 2000, and alluding to what might be a controversial budget item, the Malibu City Council Telecom-munications Subcommittee last week recommended the City Council approve an agreement transferring Falcon’s ownership to Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI).

Hailing them as a model of community access guidelines, subcommittee members Harry Barovsky and Tom Hasse also approved proposed recommendations for clarifying use of public access, educational and government (PEG) channels to be provided by Falcon under the terms of the transfer agreement. The PEG recommendations are to be voted on by the City Council at its Dec. 14 meeting.

The transfer agreement and PEG recommendations were presented to the subcommittee and City Manager Harry Peacock by the city’s telecommunications consultant Susan Herman. Peacock said that the transfer agreement and PEG guidelines, along with community input in early 1999, would be the basis of the city’s “talking points” in the franchise renewal negotiations.

The transfer agreement stipulates:

  • No later than Feb. 1, 1999, Falcon is to designate Channel 15 exclusively for government use. Falcon is to give the city $30,000 for equipment and training for the government channel.
  • By April 1, Falcon is to provide a separate public access channel on the basic service price tier.
  • By Dec. 31, Falcon will pay the city up to $50,000 for all technical consultant and third-party costs incurred by the city in reviewing the transfer agreement. Falcon will not pass through those costs to subscribers.

Responding to Sam and Nidia Birenbaum’s contention that Falcon owes the city $1,800,000 in damages for not providing the equipment and training required under the current franchise agreement, Hasse noted that the Community Services portion of the city budget for June 30, 1998 through June 30, 2000 includes approximately $170,000 for the city to establish and equip a television studio, set up training programs and manage community access television for the city. Funding for the program would come from 40 percent of the city’s cable franchise revenue (estimated at $170,000 for fiscal 1999) and a $0.67 per month cable bill surcharge for each cable subscriber, the budget item says.

Herman said the transfer agreement does not preclude the city being compensated for breach of the franchise agreement.

For subscribers like Dr. Werner Koenig, who told the subcommittee about being overcharged by Falcon for years, the transfer agreement requires Falcon to give the city quarterly complaint records. Falcon will also give the city outage records quarterly. Herman described the PEG recommendations as an interim solution to the long-standing dispute between the city and Falcon about Falcon having passed PEG programming charges through to subscribers. The recommendations are:

  • Falcon shall broadcast on the public access channel a list of production personnel and equipment available to local access producers.
  • If local access producers have Falcon produce the program, none of the production costs shall be passed through to subscribers.
  • On the other hand, if the city asks Falcon to produce a show, Falcon can either provide the service at no cost to the city or bill the city for the costs. If the city is billed, it can pay Falcon directly or credit the costs against Falcon’s next franchise fee payment.