Council hires firm to negotiate cable contract

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

EDISON — Township Council members made plans to forge ahead with a fight to improve the township’s cable television franchise agreement.

After months of hearing residents’ complaints concerning the cable service, when the time came to finalize negotiations of a new contract with Cablevision, the council opted to hire a legal firm with experience to help with its plight. That firm will help in the fight to lower an average $80 monthly basic bill, improve customer service and bring more diversity to programming.

At the May 5 Township Council meeting, a resolution was passed authorizing the township to spend no more than $22,050 to the law firm of Potter and Dickson, Princeton. The firm will "represent the township in these negotiations and offer legal counsel through the completion of the negotiation and cable franchise ordinance," the resolution read.

Potter and Dickson was chosen because the firm has more than 25 years of experience in contract negotiation, especially in "representing consumers before the Board of Public Utilities," the resolution added.

The move to hire the firm could stir controversy, council members said, because of the money spent on the hiring and the fact that it came with no guarantees of resolving all contract problems.

Still, members of the governing body expressed comfort with their decision to "take on Goliath," Councilman Anthony Massaro said. "Despite the criticisms, it’s a worthwhile fight. No good deed goes unpunished. [What ends up resulting] may not be to everyone’s satisfaction, and we’re gonna get smacked for it," but it is worth the try, he added.

In accordance with state law, which requires towns to hold a formal public hearing that is transcribed and submitted to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, the community brought numerous grievances to light at the township’s hearing earlier this year.

At that hearing, common complaints among residents included poor customer service and lack of diversity in program offerings, particularly programming that would appeal to the township’s large Asian population.

That public hearing transcription, as part of the formal process, is submitted to the board along with the cable provider’s franchise application.

While officials said they were willing to fight to correct problems, there was no guarantee of rectifying all wrongs. Since, according to law, franchise contracts can run for a period between two to 20 years, now is the time to negotiate as thoroughly as possible, Council President Robert Diehl said.

"We are working on it very hard," Diehl said. "I can’t say a lot publicly. That would be foolish." But, he added, the public asked for the fight for better service and council is fighting it for them.

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

Law does not allow municipalities to set rates for all cable services, Mayor George Spadoro said previously, adding that he felt confident the township would be able to negotiate a contract that improves services and offers consumer protections for Edison’s cable customers.