Hearing On Cable Issue

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune

By Laura Kinsler

Published March 8, 2008

LIVE OAK PRESERVE - March could be a definitive month in the battle between Live Oak Preserve homeowners and its cable company.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Frank Gomez has a hearing March 18 in the lawsuit by Live Oak's master homeowners association against Century Communications, which has a 15-year contract to serve the community.

The Federal Communications Commission, which is considering a rule to ban "bulk billing" arrangements between private cable companies and homeowners associations, meets March 19.

The homeowners association sued in December, asking the judge to declare the cable contract unenforceable. Further, the association charged Century with breach of contract for failing to "provide good television and Internet signal" to the homeowners, who are charged for the services even if they elect to go with another provider.

Attorneys for the developer-owned company said the association never specified how Century breached the contract. They said Century held up its end of the deal by making "a substantial investment of installing the infrastructure required to perform the agreed upon services."

About half of all the homeowners association dues - $1.6 million - go directly to Century Communications each year. Residents have complained that its Internet service is too slow and the cable TV service is antiquated. Century's high-definition programming is limited, it doesn't offer digital videorecorders, and its service is not compatible with TiVo.

Live Oak residents filed more than 160 comments asking the FCC to end Century's bulk billing contract. More than 30 percent of all comments were filed by dissatisfied customers - so much so that the case is gaining national attention.

A Philadelphia-based lawyer who represents cable companies called The Tampa Tribune to find out why Live Oak Preserve residents were so unhappy with Century.

One commenter, Stephen Weinstein of Camarillo, Calif., mentioned the number of comments directed at Century Communications on the FCC's electronic comment filing system. "Furthermore, the number of comments successfully posted on the ECFS (several hundred) may actually understate the true magnitude of the displeasure of residents of properties subject to exclusive private cable operator contracts," he wrote.

One resident, John Carter, has filed more than 25 comments refuting statements made by various cable companies and apartment owners, who want to preserve their bulk billing contracts.

Zuriel Cabrera, president of Live Oak's Weatherwood Village Homeowners Association, teamed up with cable customers in a Virginia Beach community to launch a Web site, www.banbulkbilling.com, dedicated to ending the practice.