Because more than 15 percent of households in the city subscribe to alternative providers, federal law prevents Richmond from regulating the rates charged by Time Warner Cable.

That was the answer to one of several questions asked at Tuesday’s public hearing on renewal of Time Warner’s franchise to provide cable TV service inside the city.

The information was provided by Linda Ain, a Lexington attorney the city has retained for assistance in negotiating renewal of the franchise that expires in July 2014.

The federal legislation leaves price regulation to the market, Ain said.

In addition to competition from satellite providers, other cable providers are free to enter the Richmond market, the attorney said. Richmond’s franchise does not give Time Warner exclusive rights to over cable service.

In Murray, the local electric utility offers cable television service in competition with Time Warner, just as Cincinnati Bell does in northern Kentucky, Ain said.

One Time Warner customer said she had called the company to ask why the monthly bill for basic service had increased $5 to $80 when no additional channels or services were offered.

The customer also asked why her call was answered by someone in another state when she had dialed the local number listed for Time Warner in the Richmond phone book.

Many national companies that serve Richmond use call centers, sometimes in other countries, said Carla Deaton of the local TimeWarner office.

“Yes,” the customer said, “but when I call a local number, I expect to get the local office so I can talk to somebody local.”

The Richmond phone book provides both local and toll-free numbers for Time Warner.

Deaton gave the customer her business card so she could be reached directly.

Some members of the city commission, which conducted the hearing, said they often are asked when cable service will be provided to outlining areas of the city, for example, on Four Mile Road beyond the Martin Bypass and along Duncannon Lane.

Ain said the franchise mandates service only in areas where the provider will have at average of 12 customers per half mile. If that many customers want service, then the provider is obligated to offer service, she said.

If cable lines must cross a railroad track, the cost to the cable provider is $50,000, Deaton said. However, if the customer density requirement is met, Ain said the provider is obligated to extend service regardless of the cost.

Another customer, David Rush, asked if Time Warner could provide alternative access to network shows when network affiliates in Lexington pre-empt regular programming for special shows, such as sporting events.

When WKYT in Lexington pre-empts CBS shows for a Southeastern Conference basketball game between two teams of little local interest, he said, local viewers cannot see them. Years ago, the local cable provider offered Louisville and Cincinnati network affiliates, Rush said. They often did not pre-empt the same shows the Lexington stations.

Deaton said Time Warner has contracts to carry stations and networks with no control over their programming. WKYT may offer alternative programming on Time Warner’s channel 99, she said, and promised to get back to Rush with more information.

“I’m surprised you’re not a basketball junkie,” Mayor Jim Barnes told Rush. Later, Rush said he is interested in basketball, but is primarily an Eastern Kentucky University fan with little interest in a game, for example, between Auburn and Mississippi.

Barnes said he believes Time Warner generally is providing good service and living up to the terms of its franchise.

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@ or at 624-6622.

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