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Take Your Seats For Round 1 Of Cablevision V The Bermudian Government

by Mike Godfrey,, New York

10 September 2002

Bermuda's monopoly cable TV supplier, Cablevision is involved in an unseemly fight with the Government over a renewal of its licence and promised improvements to its service, which has been criticised on many occasions.

The company originally received a 15-year license in 1987, which expired on 1st September. In the last year it has been spending some millions of dollars to improve its infrastructure, instal fibre-optic cable, and offer advanced facilities to its customers, perhaps including Internet access. Its total investment programme will cost US$7m, and the company seems to have calculated that this would be enough to persuade the Government to renew its license for a further fifteen years. It applied for the renewal last April.

The Government, however, in the person of Renee Webb, Minister of Telecommunications and E-Commerce, has other ideas, and told the company just eight days before the expiry of its license that it would grant an extension just for one year, pending delivery of the improvements promised by the company. Hardly surprisingly, the company, in the person of its Chairman, American Rod Hansen, refused, and said that unhappily it would be forced to close down as of 1st September, since it couldn't justify further investment on the basis of just one year.

Sounds reasonable? Nope! The Government reached for its lawyers, and gained an injunction forcing Cablevision to stay open for a further 90 days.

Now fur is flying in all directions, and there is a lively public debate about the rights and wrongs of the affair, with opinion perhaps evenly split between criticism of the Ministry's somewhat high-handed behaviour, and criticism of Rod Hansen's somewhat high-handed behaviour. Meanwhile Cablevision goes on supplying the wall-to-wall soaps and movies for which it is regularly excoriated in the press.

Said one correspondent to the Royal Gazette, rather sweetly:

'Renee Webb is trying to score some political points telling CableVision they can only operate with a one-year licence for now. I thought about that and realised that no business, whether it be writing reinsurance, baking cookies, cleaning gutters or giving us dozens of television channels is going to want to invest one red cent in the business if it might have its plug pulled by Government in one year.

'Ms Webb should have the sense to realise that, and I bet she does. But perhaps the prospective voters need something to stir them up ... and a horse to flog?

'On Sunday the CableVision crews were back working in Cavendish Heights, during a holiday weekend. This seems remarkable because I cannot even count on garbage collection on the appointed weekday. My picture was restored and it is the best picture I've had and I've not seen better anywhere else.

' I have had CableVision telephone me today to thank me for my patience, and that means those folks are working on Labour Day when, I imagine, Ms. Webb is down at Bernard Park getting jiggy with it.

' Ms. Webb works hard, and she should have some fun. She should also work on her attitude and her understanding of capital investment and amortisation and explain that to her political base, instead of waving a red flag to stir everybody up.

' CableVision: I am going to be patient. I know the vast majority of Bermudians will be patient. They may carp a bit, and not thank you for all your good work, and your dutiful and polite employees. But we really are a good people.'

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