COMMITTEE HEARS CABLE TV COMPLAINTS
November 27, 2001 11:00 pm

GOLD BEACH The Curry County Cable Ombudsman Committee used most of its Monday meeting to address the trespassing and damage complaint of Laurie Wills against Charter Communications.

Wills said she first complained to Charter in October, 2000 after crews had trespassed and sunk anchors on her property to access rental homes.

She said one crew sank their pickup in her yard just to have lunch. She said the anchors were never used, and were removed after the committees April meeting.

Wills said she first dropped off a letter at the commissioners office on Feb. 6, but the committee has still done little to resolve the issue.

County Counsel Jerry Herbage said Portland consultant Steve Jolin read the countys file on the complaint.

He said Jolin indicated the franchise gives Charter the authority to lay cable within the public right of way, but also places some limitations on what it can do. He said Charter was not allowed to have equipment outside of the easement.

Herbage said if the committee wants to try to resolve the issue, it will need to send a notice of the violation to Charter, then give 30 days for the company to cure the problem or come up with a remedial plan. He said public hearings and fines could come later in the process, if necessary.

Schafer said the two main parts of Wills complaint were that Charter failed to contact her before coming on her property, and then didnt repair all the damage.

Herbage agreed that the company exceeding its scope was one issue, and the damage another. Wills said the bigger issue is Charters assertion that it has the right to use the Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative easement to bring cable to any house that the electric company serves.

She said Coos-Curry Electric always sends someone to her door to ask permission to come on her property, and uses equipment to avoid doing that, if possible. If this company acted with the same professionalism as Coos-Curry we wouldnt be here.

Committee member Don Tilton said the franchise forbids the company from going on private property.

Were spinning our wheels, he said. We need to get moving. We need to determine if there has been a violation and if so, send a letter. Its obvious Charter has no intention of doing anything until it is pushed.

Wills said she had already repaired the ruts left in her yard.

Earl DeSomber, manager of Charters Crescent City plant, said Charter could remove the wires that arent being used.

He said he doesnt know if someone failed to contact Wills or not before going on her property, but if Charter made a mistake, it could do something for her. He said the company couldnt do what Wills asked and purchase an easement to enter her property. He said that is why Charter uses Coos-Currys easement.

Wills said, The county has an obligation to its citizens to determine whether Charter can come right into their houses or not.

Tilton asked why Charter connected to homes where service wasnt wanted. DeSomber said when in a building program, Charter connects to poles in case nearby homes want service in the future.

As for the anchors that were put in and then taken out without being used, he said his crews are required to put in the anchors and guy wires first.

In this case, they then found the clearance across a road was too low to put in the cable strand, and took out the anchors.

Wills said, I want it clear whether they have the right to come into my yard and hang stuff on the side of my house. I want them to take out all their equipment.

Schafer said the countys consultant felt Charter did have the right to use the Coos-Curry easement. If you dont think so, you will have to take private action, she told Wills.

If they have a blanket right, said Wills, why did Charter make private agreements for access with other landowners?

Schafer said Charter did need to notify her before crossing her property to access the easement.

DeSomber said Charter shouldnt have to access Wills land again, but it could send her a certified letter if it needs to. He said Charter could also ask her which way she would prefer the crews to enter the property. He said they dont always have to take trucks in to climb poles.

Committee member David Hoenie asked, If they notify you and come in where you want, if needed, will that satisfy you?

Probably, said Wills, but that doesnt address remedially. I dont see phone people where they dont belong.

Herbage said Wills had asked Charter for $20,000 for damages and the purchase of an easement on her property. He said it would be hard for the company to remedy its failure to notify.

DeSomber said when in a building program, Charter usually door-tags every home in the area.

Tilton said that wouldnt be enough. You need to get written permission from each owner.

DeSomber said the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Communications Act of 1984 state cable companies do not need such permission.

Wills said that in any case, none of the four homes on her property received door tags.

DeSomber said a contractor would have door-tagged the homes. He said he didnt have enough confidence in that contractor to say for sure that it had been done.

Hoenie asked again, Beyond the easement issue, what compensation are you asking?

Im not willing to negotiate that issue now, said Wills. They failed to respond, period. Can they put equipment anywhere Coos-Curry comes?

Probably, said Schafer.

So the only way to keep Charter off your property is to not have Coos-Curry? she said.

Tilton said Charter also has the right to provide cable to any renter who requests it.

He said when everyone wanted electricity and the easement was given to Coos-Curry, no one even envisioned cable television. He said courts are now ruling it is the same as electric service.

DeSomber and the committee members agreed that the next step should be a field trip to Wills property so everyone can see exactly what she is talking about.

Members will meet in the commissioners hearing room at 1:30 p.m. Monday before going to Wills property.

Before the committee adjourned, Gold Beach attorney Amber Vierling introduced herself and said she had been contacted by Wills to look into the issue.

She said she was also speaking with 15 to 20 people in Pistol River who had similar complaints against Charter.