The Beatrice City Council approved moving from a month-to-month franchise agreement contract with Charter Communications to a 10-year, non-exclusive contract.

On Monday night, the council voted unanimously to approve the franchise agreement after removing it from the consent agenda for further discussion. The contract will be for a 10-year term and, at its conclusion, it will automatically renew for five years.

The franchise gives Charter—which provides cable, phone and internet in the city of Beatrice— access to the city’s right-of-way and, in exchange, Charter will pay the city a franchise fee equal to 5 percent of their gross revenue.

Council member Bob Morgan wanted the term “non-exclusive” clarified before voting on the item.

“We're not entering into an agreement where Charter is our only option for cable?” Morgan asked. “This would still allow for free enterprise if somebody else wanted to come in and be a competitor?”

City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer confirmed that any other company would be able to come into the market if they’d like to.

Charter also installed a fiber optic line into the Beatrice School Administration building—where the council holds its meetings—and will provide most of the equipment needed for the city to transmit meetings over a public access channel.

The city still needs a camera to transmit the meetings, but that wasn’t included in the budget for this year, Tempelmeyer said. The equipment would likely cost around $50,000, and they’re trying to find a way to make it work, he said.

The month-to-month contract the city previously had with Charter didn’t offer the same long-term security that a 10-year contract would, Tempelmeyer said.

“That's why we negotiated this agreement which gives them a little more security as far as putting improvements into the system that maybe otherwise they were reluctant to do on a month-to-month basis,” he said.

Jeremiah Blake, Charter’s director of government affairs for Nebraska and Kansas, told the council that Charter covers about 26 million customers in 41 states, including about 200,000 customers in 89 Nebraska communities.

Blake said that Charter’s aim is to provide better speed and picture quality, and that they offer lower cost internet access options for elderly and lower income customers.

Charter provides one public access channel—also known as a Public, Educational and Governmental access channel—and, Blake said, if the first channel becomes fully utilized, the city can request a second channel.

Morgan told Blake that he’s gotten a number of calls from people in his area in regards to customer service. People have told him that there’s a lack of customer service during outages. Morgan asked, as a community franchise, what can be done on Charter’s end.

“If you hear those complaints, please feel free to have Tobias reach out to me and I can kind of shortcut those and address those,” Blake said. “That's part of my job, so please use me as a resource on that.”

The council approved the 10-year franchise agreement unanimously with council members Joe Billesbach and Ted Fairbanks absent.

The council also approved another facade improvement grant in the amount of $10,000 to David and Beth Sederberg, who will perform improvements to their 204 N. Fifth St. building, which houses Uhl’s Sporting Goods.

This is the first grant approved since early November, due mostly to the fact that the Sederbergs wanted to make sure one of the improvements was acceptable to the Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office.

“Part of the plan is that they want to have some of the old transom glass, make sure that's put back into their building, their front facade,” Tempelmeyer said. “And they wanted to make sure that SHPO was going to be OK with them doing that.”

Also, he said, most of the work will be performed in the springtime, so there wasn’t much of a rush to get the paperwork completed.

This loan agreement is structured in the same way as past agreements, Tempelmeyer said. After improvements have remained in place for five years, the loan is forgiven by the city. Grant recipients must pay at least 25 percent of the total cost and receipts for improvements are turned into the city and then turned over to the state for reimbursement.

Improvements made to the properties have to stay in place for a full five years. If they don’t, the city must repay the state for the grant money.

As for future facade renovations, that’s up to the people making the improvements, Tempelmeyer said.

“We have three more sitting on my desk waiting for approval from the property owners,” he said.

The loan was approved unanimously.

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