Cities battle cable provider

Bright House's plan to reassign channels draws a lawsuit.

By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer
Published November 17, 2007

TAMPA - The cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg on Friday filed a federal lawsuit against Bright House Networks to block the company from removing local government TV channels from basic cable plans.

Bright House plans to make the switch Dec. 11 throughout the region. The company says it's changing because customers want the same order of channels in each Tampa Bay market.

"Out of all the local governments who have been affected by this realignment, they're the only two that can't live with it," said Bright House attorney Steve Anderson. "They're going to waste their valuable resources to tell Bright House how to run its business. Last I read, these municipalities were not running a budget surplus. They were so tight there were layoffs."

But Tampa and other local governments, including St. Petersburg, object to the plan because it will force customers interested in public access, educational and government channels to rent a digital box for $1 a month.

Tampa City Council member Tom Scott said that could put a strain on people with fixed or low incomes.

The channels also provide a valuable service, said Tampa council member John Dingfelder. "It's critical that folks stay in touch with what their government's doing. And from my experience, watching Channel 15 is the way they do it. And typically, the way they do it is channel surfing on the lower channels. That's not going to happen with the Bright House plan," he said.

In its suit, Tampa says federal law requires the cable company to provide the channels as part of its basic cable package. The suit also says it would cause a financial burden to upgrade more than 100 televisions in city buildings and to remarket the city's television services on a new channel.

City of Tampa television is now on Channel 15. The change would put the programming in the 600 range and require digital service to access.

"If this was not something that was important to our customers, Bright House would not be doing it," Anderson said.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or 813 226-3401.