GOLD BEACH The Curry County Cable Ombudsman Committee took a field trip Monday to investigate the complaint of Laurie Wills against Charter Communications.
The two main parts of Wills complaint were that Charter failed to contact her before coming on her property to connect cables to existing poles, and then didnt repair all the resulting damage.
Committee members made no formal decisions, but wanted to see firsthand what Wills had described.
The Wills own several acres of land on the Rogue River, about 10 miles east of Gold Beach, including river-front and rental properties.
By the time the committee toured the site, Laurie had repaired the damage that she claimed Charter had done to her yard, but she pointed out the wires she wants removed from a pole on her property.
She said one cable is slung so low that a mobile home on her property could not be moved under it.
Earl DeSomber, manager of Charters Crescent City plant, said since the homes near the pole are not currently receiving cable service, he should be able to get the line removed.
He said, however, that if one of Wills renters requested cable service, he would have to put the line back in. He said that is spelled out in Charters franchise with Curry County.
Wills said her renters do not have the right to request service from Charter, and she would not allow the line to come back in.
She said the provision in the franchise mentioned by DeSomber may apply to apartment buildings, but not to the mobile homes she rents out on her private property.
She said if the line has not been removed within two weeks, she will have her attorney work on the case.
Wills original complaint to the cable committee was that Charter had entered her property without notifying her or asking her permission, and had then damaged the property.
She said a Charter crew parked a truck on her lawn while they ate lunch and left deep ruts in the soft ground.
Wills also said Charter installed guy-wire anchors in her lawn and left them there for two years, though no line was ever put in.
Her husband, Jim Wills, said members of the crew climbed over his barbed-wire fence to access a pole, instead of using the gate.
Laurie said she hadnt found a landowner yet who had been notified prior to Charter crews entering their property.
She also said there is a bigger issue. Notice of showing up and the right to be there are two different things.
If we dont address this, she said, they will continue to use private easements as public access.
We can argue that until were blue in the face, said DeSomber.
Jim Wills said, I have a problem with any private business saying they can come on private property whenever they wish.
DeSomber said the federal cable act said an easement is an easement. He said Charter applied to attach to every single pole it attached to.
Cable committee member Don Tilton said Charter can be held to general access points.
DeSomber said the renters on Wills property asked for cable service.
Jim said when someone does ask for service, Charter should ask if they are owners or renters. He said owners could be liable if Charter crews are injured on their properties.
What it comes down to for me is property rights, he said.
DeSomber agreed that Charter should notify landowners before coming on their properties, but he asked how a cable installer would know who owned the property and who rented it.
Laurie Wills said the county needs to look at its franchise in light of several suits at the Supreme Court level.
Cable committee member David Hoenie said Wills could also tackle the problem from the other end with a rental agreement that would ban the renters from ordering service.
Jim said he felt Charter was a bit belligerent, about its rights to use the easement of Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative to access every home served with electricity. He said that right has never been tested in Oregon.
Laurie said those rights did not hold up when challenged in Alaska and Georgia.
I just dont want people running around my property without permission, said Jim.
I understand, said DeSomber, I would not want someone going in my backyard either.
He said when Charter has a new building plan, it tries to do everything it can at that time.
He said if the company held off and waited on everyones permission, nothing would ever be completed.
DeSomber said he made a note on the map so if anyone from Charter needs to come on the Wills property for any reason, they will call first.
On the subject of people calling Charter, DeSomber said the company changed its Brookings phone number to a toll-free number for a customer service center in Vancouver, Wash., to improve service.
He said information from callers appears on the computers in Brookings immediately.
If callers have experienced any problems, he said, it could be because of a lack of training in Vancouver.
DeSomber said the customer service center has been operating for some time, but systems have been added to it one by one.
He said the Brookings system was added to the service center with all the remaining systems at one time.