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Charter meets with city

After a threatening a boycott of Charter Communications at last Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council got a chance to hear from the cable company during a special called meeting last night.

“We’re a business in Selma that cares about Selma,” Lynne Coker of Charter said. “Not only did we stay, but we invested tens of millions of dollars in this area and built an infrastructure.”

Not too many residents of Selma would agree with her statement, however.

Coker, the Director of Governmental Relations for Charter Communications, came before the Selma City Council Monday to address the numerous complaints that her company has received.

“One thing that really irritates me is that after we met with you all and expressed our concerns about rates, you raised the rates,” said Councilman Cecil Williamson.

Coker said the rate increase had nothing to do with the meeting, it was due to the fact that communications is a competitive market.

“Ten years ago, we didn’t have the channel variety that we have today,” she said. “Of the 6,000 customers in Selma, 638 are basic only customers. That shows that people want the additional services that we provide.”

“You’re taking $3 million out of the community each year and I would think that it would be fair to put some of that money back into it,” said Williamson.

“We are,” said Coker as she presented the Council with a chart that showed Charter’s investment in Selma.

“We’re mandated by contract to collect franchise fees,”she said. “Here in Selma three percent of that is collected and remitted back to you.”

She also said that the complimentary accounts provided to schools and service organizations came to around $56,000 over a three year period.

“I see your charts here of investment and infrastructure,” said Councilwoman Geraldine Allen. “You have a stable market here in Selma.”

Coker readily agreed.

However, Allen said that she has received several letters from area businesses and concerned citizens about Charter’s lack of quality service.

“There is a sense of frustration, and it goes back to before Ms. Coker came on,” said Mayor James Perkins Jr. “We get a lot of complaints. Whenever people feel that they’re being mistreated, it leaves everyone open for criticism.”

In addition to the rate increases, the mayor also addressed the failed agreement that was made among CHAT Academy, Charter, and the Selma City Council, to implement a TV station at CHAT.

According to Perkins, the Council approved $13,900 to be used to begin the station, and Charter was supposed to provide the rest of the necessary funds.

“It was my understanding that Charter’s investment would be in the range of $30,000,” said Perkins.

He said that the Council upheld its agreement to the school, but Charter did not.

“In order to honor the investment, Charter wanted to extend the franchise agreement another five years,” said Perkins. “That was not included in the original agreement.”

Coker said that she was not fully aware of all the details.

“This would not have been a hard cash investment because all of the infrastructure is already in place,” he said.

“I wanted to avoid this,” said Perkins as he gestured toward a news crew filming the meeting. “I made the public aware of my intent to address this issue because the public keeps coming to me and this Council.”

“You need a public relations campaign in this community, and right now, you are not looking too good,” said Perkins. “Charter is too smart for that. We are asking that you honor the agreement so that we can move beyond this point.

I don’t want to pick a fight with you, I just want Selma to be treated fairly.”

Coker said that she would provide the Council with information about the company’s infrastructure tomorrow, and information about resolving the other issues as soon as possible.