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Berkeley County committee begins work on cable agreement

April 18, 2001

Berkeley County committee begins work on cable agreement



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


An advisory committee began work Wednesday on what could be a groundbreaking franchise agreement with the company that provides cable television service to Martinsburg and Berkeley County.

"We may be blazing the trail for the rest of the state," said Christina Lundberg, program manager for the Small Business Development Center at Shepherd College, who was appointed chairwoman of the committee by Berkeley County Commissioner John Wright.

Recommendations of the committee could influence what is seen on cable and perhaps lead to an increase in local programming. No other such negotiations have occurred in the state, she said.

Both Berkeley County and Martinsburg have agreements with Adelphia, which is given a franchise to provide cable television service but must negotiate the terms of that agreement. The county's agreement with the company expires May 28. The city's expires May 27.

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The Cable Franchise Advisory Committee appointed by the county commission decided Wednesday night to seek an extension, believing the issues it faces are too complex to be decided in the next month. The group also wants to see what Adelphia is willing to give local residents for the right to have the franchise.

Adelphia recently took over from GS Communications and has not provided a proposed contract.

"We don't want a boilerplate contract," said committee member Kimber White, owner of the Boomtown Restaurant.

Committee members expressed solid support for considering a "community media center" on a public access channel where local programming could be produced.

Mary Jo Brown, public information officer for the Berkeley County Schools, wants to explore new opportunities to use the educational channel. Other members want to push health and fitness, programs for nonprofit organizations to get out their message and programs to help tourism and small business.

Wright said he was concerned about the content of programming. He wants the "E!" channel removed because it carries "The Howard Stern Show." Wright said he believes the sexually explicit material on his show is inappropriate.

Hedgesville resident Craig Shipley, who was the catalyst behind the committee being formed, said the company has an obligation to provide certain things. But if the county or city wants improvements such as a media center with production equipment, they might pass those costs onto consumers.

Committee members disagreed over how well that would be received by the public.

Various committee members will study aspects of the issue, hoping to learn more and put together a wish list before the next meeting.

What's next?

The next Cable Franchise Advisory Committee meeting will be held May 9 at 7 p.m. at the commission administrative offices, 126 W. King St.

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