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Blawnox weighs municipal TV authority

Tuesday, July 03, 2001

By Rick Nowlin, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Blawnox has a possible new wrinkle in its battle with AT&T Broadband: competition.

Fed up with what it considers heavy-handed tactics of AT&T, the borough is considering formation of a municipal authority to provide TV service and is in discussions with several direct broadcast satellite companies.

Fred Polnar, special legal counsel for Blawnox, said, "What it means is cheaper rates, better services and more programming choices."

The borough filed a breach-of-contract suit in April in federal court against AT&T and Comcast Cablevision of the South Inc., which formerly provided service to Blawnox but was acquired last year by AT&T. AT&T took over the cable system over the objections of borough council, which denied approval of the transfer.

The cable contract expired last year and negotiations with AT&T have since stalled.

The borough also complained about loss of local cable-access programming and jobs at the firm's New Kensington facility plus arbitrary rate increases without any increases in service.

"They have to deal with us in a fair and equitable manner," said council President Sam McNaughton. "This is why our negotiating process is broken down."

Borough officials said they see advantages in going with a satellite provider rather than cable.

"We've found [going satellite is] less expensive and gives participants a lot more channels," said Mayor Tom Smith. "It's digital, which means a clearer picture."

Furthermore, if the municipal authority comes to fruition, "We'll be able to control our destiny," he said.

If it takes off, said Smith, Blawnox may invite other towns, particularly its 13 partners in the Allegheny Valley North Council of Governments, most also served by AT&T, to join the authority.

"If we are successful in this endeavor, a lot of municipalities may look at doing the same thing," Smith said.

AT&T spokesman Dan Garfinkel said he could not comment because he had not heard of the borough's plans.

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