CATEGORY: SUP Lee Board of SupervisorsMOULDE

Supervisors give cable company new deadline

By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

Lee County supervisors Monday gave new managers of Mississippi Cable Co. another 30 days to reduce service complaints, and strongly urged the company to open a local office in half that time.

An official for the new firm directing the cable television system vowed "to try" to improve service quickly, but said the company is suffering "cash flow" problems because of unpaid bills left by the old management firm.

Those unpaid bills included power and programming services, items "that are critical to the operation of the system," said Richard Shows, director of operations for the new managers.

On Jan. 12, Mississippi Cable's owners fired ACI Management Inc. of Nashville as its management company and replaced it with Sun Country Cable of Pleasanton, Calif., and JKF Media Consultants of Greensboro, Ga. MCC is owned by Brookridge Inc. of Ridgefield, Conn.

"We're making some strides ...," Shows said, although he made no formal commitments. He said when Sun/JKF took over the system, it "didn't have the materials or equipment to do what most cable companies take for granted on a day-to-day basis."

"Formerly, if they ordered equipment for Mississippi it went to Alabama. Often very little of it wound up here."

And Shows conceded the company doesn't know the scope of its unpaid obligations, a financial pitfall that may continue to impede system upgrading. MCC owners have told unpaid creditors they may have to work out a payment schedule.

"Well, we have a new surprise a day, so I don't know," Shows said of the outstanding debts. He said ACI also refused to turn over its files to the new managers.

Penalty grows

Supervisors left intact a $100 a day penalty levied on the cable company last September. The penalty, subtracting $6,700 paid by ACI in December, could stand at $10,000 when the new deadline arrives.

If the new management firm makes significant headway in solving the system's problems, the fine likely would be forgiven, Board of Supervisors President Billy Davis said.

"We don't want to fine them. We'd rather the money go to service," Davis said. "But you have to do something to get their attention."

In MCC's first 60 days under the penalty, the county received 34 service complaints and five billing complaints, County Administrator Ronnie Bell said. Only seven of the complaining customers reported satisfaction with repairs while four of the billing complaints weren't resolved, he said.

In the 60 days ending Feb. 10, the county logged 43 service complaints and 12 billing calls. Only 14 of those customers were not satisfied with repairs, but that percentage was still too high, he said.

However, Bell said he was "cautiously optimistic" the new managers would improve the system, although he noted a lot of customers had "lost faith" with MCC. "I'd like to see some kind of commitment from you .... we've got to have some way to measure that ....

"It's not the customers' fault that (MCC) changed management. And it's not the customers fault that they (ACI) didn't pay the bills," Bell said.

He also warned Shows that MCC faces payment of its annual franchise fee in April, perhaps "another surprise you need to be aware of."

Local service

Shows said he has been looking for a local office, but has been unable to locate a suitable building as yet. Prior to ACI's dismissal, Lee County supervisors had demanded that MCC establish a local office by Jan. 15.

ACI Inc. had run its Mississippi operations out of Alabama. Shows, who himself lives in Florence, Ala., indicated that the company now operates from scattered locales.

"It won't all be done in the next month or two months ... we just have to chip away at it," Shows said. "I can't guarantee a lot, but I guarantee I'll try."

In other action, the supervisors took under advisement a request by the Salvation Army for money to help fund a girls softball league. It wasn't clear just how much the organization wanted, but the league will have 36 teams from four counties.

Donations are illegal under state law, so any help would have to come in some other form, county officials indicated.

The board also approved a tax exemption on $64 million in new equipment and buildings at Tecumseh Products Inc.'s plant in Tupelo-Lee Industrial Park South. The company employs almost 1,300 workers.

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