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Tue, Jul 25, 2017 03:44 PM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
Cable wars
by Jerry Pennington

Lawrence County Bureau

LOUISA — An attorney representing Lycom Communications claims a cable franchise granted to Foothills by the Lawrence County Fiscal Court in December of last year was illegal and needed to be rescinded.

Foothills, however, claims it has a valid franchise with the county, and is merely looking to get to underserved areas and provide other customers with a choice.

Linda Ain, a Lexington attorney representing Lycom, formerly GreenTree Cable, told magistrates that before a franchise can be granted, a company must go through the bidding process. She also said the franchise agreement had to be on a level playing field with any existing franchise, and that Foothills was given more favorable terms.

Ain said under Lycom's franchise, they were required to upgrade and rebuild the system within six months, which she said the company did do. The Foothills franchise calls for service within a much smaller area, and allows them five years to complete the work.

Jess Lykins, owner of Lycom, said Lawrence is such a large county with so many remote homes, it would be impossible to serve everyone, saying it would be cost-prohibitive to run two miles of cable for one home.

"What these people are promising is not going to happen," Lykins said of Foothills' promise to offer service to everyone in the county.

Joe Patton, an attorney representing Foothills, said his company was a rural cooperative that is owned by it's customers whose only purpose is to service underserved areas.

"That's what Foothills continues to be today," Patton said. "If you request (phone) service, we have to get you that service, even if it's cost prohibitive. We're not in business to make money."

Patton said people had requested additional services besides telephone, so Foothills decided to expand into the cable television industry.

Ain cited state and federal laws that lay out the procedures for granting franchises, and by not bidding first, the Lawrence County Fiscal Court was in violation.

"The law is very clear on this matter," Ain said.

Patton questioned the franchise agreement Lycom had, stating that the county had no record of an agreement with that company as well. Ain said Lycom had purchased the former Lawrence County Cable company, and had made no changes, so the franchise was transferrable.

"All my client is saying is that they have a franchise that was bid out, and state law requires that franchises be bid out."

Magistrate Gary Nelson, who was on the last fiscal court that approved the franchise with Foothills, said the magistrates were there to represent the people of Lawrence County, and there are still a lot of them without cable television service.

"We're trying to do this right and do what's fair, and if we're wrong it needs to be corrected," Nelson said.

Lawrence County Attorney Mike Hogan suggested that the county go back and advertise for bids, letting Foothills make a bid, and then work up a new franchise agreement, saying the county should have a standard agreement in place for other companies that may want to come into the area.

Hogan asked each representative if they would be able to agree to the terms of the other's franchise. Patton of Foothills said he couldn't answer that question until he met with his client, and pointed out that the technology had changed since Lycom's franchise terms were set. He also said he wanted to look into the federal Telecommunications Act and see if anything contained in it superceded state bidding laws.

Ain said Lycom would not agree to the terms spelled out in Foothills' franchise, because they already have a franchise that is legal.

"My client has a 15-year franchise signed in 1993," Ain said. "In 2008, my client would be glad to negotiate a franchise, but until then ours is valid."

Patton said he didn't understand why Lycom wouldn't agree to their franchise since they're claiming Foothills has more favorable terms.

"Keep in mind that the local franchise-granting authority cannot deny reasonable competition," Patton said.

The court took no action on the issue, but tabled it until next month to give the county attorney more time to study the issue.

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