Edison set to negotiate new cable contract

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

EDISON — All those who hold an opinion about the township’s cable service will get the opportunity to speak their mind this week.

Local officials recently announced that the township will begin the formal process of negotiating a cable television franchise renewal agreement with Cablevision, the local cable provider.

A public hearing on the matter, which is required by law, is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday in the Township Council chambers at the municipal building. Residents will have the opportunity to make suggestions and air their grievances with their current cable service, officials said.

"At the hearing, we want to identify the problems and really get the full scope of what is going on," council President Robert Diehl said last week.

"The best way for the public to let us know what they want is at the hearing," he said.

Diehl said the number of complaints has multiplied during his tenure on the council.

"In my two years I have not seen anything that comes from all corners of town and affects all types of people like [the cable issue] does," Diehl said.

Most of the complaints focus on customer service, according to Diehl.

The township’s current cable franchise agreement expired in 2003.

"While the law does not allow municipalities to set rates for all cable services, I am confident we will be able to negotiate a contract that improves services and is offers consumer protections for Edison’s cable customers," Mayor George Spadoro said in a prepared statement.

State law requires towns to hold a formal public hearing that is transcribed and submitted to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, along with the cable provider’s franchise application to a municipality, for a franchise contract. Under the law, such franchise contracts can run for a period between two to 20 years in length.

Under the federal Telecommunica-tions Act of 1996, basic cable services are the only area where states can regulate cable providers’ rates, according to township officials. Rates for more expansive cable services, such as premium channels and Internet services, are not regulated under federal law.

"When my office and the council started receiving complaints last winter about Cablevision’s service, I asked the council to hold a public forum, which helped us [understand] the scope and degree of cable service problems our residents were experiencing," Spadoro said.

In addition to Diehl, council members Anthony Massaro and Parag Patel will serve on the panel, along with residents Angelo Orlando, Helen Gottlieb, Dr. Chan Chua Zou and Parimal Patel.

Township officials said that once Friday’s public hearing is formally transcribed, negotiations with Cablevision are expected to take several months to complete.