BUCKHANNON – Stay tuned because Upshur County’s local public access station, Channel 3 Buckhannon, isn’t going away any time soon.
As part of its recent 10-year franchise renewal with the City of Buckhannon, the TV/cable and phone provider Optimum agreed to provide a $5,000 grant to the city to establish a fiber connection at its new office in the American Legion Post 7 building, enabling Channel 3 Buckhannon to remain on air.
At its June 1 meeting, council considered a $5,000 request from Rodney Irvin Jr., owner of Mountain State Video Imaging and the operator of Channel 3 Buckhannon. Irvin told council that the station’s headquarters on Wabash Street must undergo major repairs, forcing him to move to the new location at 16 N. Kanawha Street. The only problem, Irvin said, was that the American Legion building does not have a fiber connection, and the $5,000 it would take to install one from there to the head-end was more than he could afford.
“Five-thousand dollars is above what I’m able to do, and it’s part of the [city’s] franchise [agreement with Optimum], so I’m kind of at a point where Buckhannon kind of needs to decide how they want Channel 3 to go,” he said at the meeting.
At the time, city finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins suggested council consider whether it would be feasible for Channel 3 to instead move into a city facility – such as the Colonial Arts Center – that’s already outfitted with a fiber connection and closer to Optimum’s office.
While council was discussing the proposed renewal agreement at the June 15 meeting, mayor Robbie Skinner asked if a resolution had been reached and Jenkins said Optimum had agreed to pay the $5,000 it would cost to install the fiber connection.
“A $5,000 [grant] will be given if the franchise agreement is passed, and it will go toward the implementation and building of that head end,” she said.
Included in council’s June 15 agenda packet is a letter from Jim Campbell, vice president of government affairs with Altice/Cebridge Acquisition, L.P. Campbell’s letter pledges that within 30 days of city’s approval of franchise renewal, Altice will “provide the city with a grant of $5,000 towards the operational cost of its PEG service as described in the franchise agreement.”
PEG stands for public, educational or governmental use.
“So, upon the positive renewal of the franchise, the City of Buckhannon is not out the $5,000 and some odd change that it would take to lay the fiber line to 16 South Kanawha Street,” Skinner said. “A city investment is not going to be required.”
Former senator Clark Barnes of Orion Strategies, who handles public relations for Optimum, attended the June 15 meeting to advocate for the renewal of the franchise agreement and field council members’ questions. Barnes told the city that the telecommunications company – owned by Altice USA and formerly known as Suddenlink – had been striving to drastically improve service after the state Public Service Commission penalized it with a $2.2 million fine and ordered the company to open a West Virginia-based Call Center due to the large number of complaints filed against it.
Barnes said as old lines are replaced with new fiber lines, Optimum’s service will gradually improve.
“We are spending money; we’re trying to improve things, and certainly, yes, we know that we’re not taking care of all the situations and all the challenges that are out there, but we’re making a good faith effort,” Barnes said.
Council voted unanimously to include the City of Buckhannon’s support of installing a fiber connection at the American Legion in the franchise renewal agreement, with just one member, CJ Rylands, abstaining from the vote.
On Wednesday, Irvin said he’s hoping to relocate to North Kanawha Street building by July 1, but that depends on whether the fiber connection has been installed. During the move, he said customers can expect just a slight interruption in programming for several hours before Channel 3 Buckhannon comes back online. If you don’t have cable TV, Channel 3 Buckhannon may also be accessed online on its YouTube station.
A second reading of the ordinance authorizing the franchise renewal agreement will occur at council’s regular July 6, and a third reading at its Aug. 3 meeting. If passed, the ordinance will go into effect Sept. 2, 2023.