Charter/Spectrum bill causes confusion


Organizations respond to concerns with statement

Sept. 28, 2019 — The City of Florence has a legal responsibility to receive payment for the authorized use of city assets such as infrastructure, physical locations, machinery, equipment or personnel services. While many of the city’s assets are visible — Florence City Hall, Miller Park and the Florence Event Center for example — others are less noticeable, like underground water, telecommunication and electric lines.

Florence, like many municipalities, enters into a contracted situation with a number of independent, third-party companies, which allows these companies to use city assets to conduct business within city limits.

The use of the public rights-of-way is regulated by Florence City Code Title 8: Public Ways and Property, as well as applicable federal and state laws and other city ordinances and resolutions. This part of city code mandates a fee collection from third parties for use of any public assets based on a formula that determines the amount that needs to be paid to the municipality.

The imposed surcharge is usually about 5 percent of the revenue garnered through the use of city assets by the third party. Often, agreements for use of what are referred to as Right-of-Way franchise agreements are entered into with telecommunication and other similar companies that use the city’s telecommunication infrastructure.

Recently, there has been some confusion in the charges included in bills received by customers from Charter/Spectrum, which have prompted calls to city staff seeking clarification. The concern expressed by customers is due to an itemized fee that that is listed as a charge for Florence Internet Protocol (FIP).

According to City of Florence Public Information Officer Megan Messmer, there has been no change in the amount the city is charging in these franchise agreements — it is simply being listed differently.

“These are not new fees being charged for cable and/or internet. We are explaining this to customers as they call us after speaking with Charter/Spectrum customer services,” said Messmer. “The fee Charter/Spectrum is passing on to customers is applied to telecommunications utilities with infrastructure in the city’s right-of-way. The same rate of 5 percent of gross revenue generated within the city limits is applied to all utilities, regardless of what service they are providing, unless otherwise stated in an unexpired franchise agreement.”

These charges apply to all telecommunications, phone and data, cable, water, wastewater and electric, said Messmer, who added that the city even pays in lieu of franchise fee on its own utilities.

She also clarified what is being termed an “FIP” on bills now being received by Charter/Spectrum customers.

“Charter/Spectrum has recently chosen to pass the right-of-way use fee directly on to customers. The bills seem to separate the fee based on cable and telecommunications services,” said Messmer. “Beginning in July, they began separating it out on the billing statement sent to customers under the name ‘Florence Internet Protocol Fee.’ If a customer receives cable from them, I believe it still lists that as a franchise fee and adds the remainder under their new fee name.

“This has caused much of the confusion with customers when they call the Charter/Spectrum customer service as they have been given a variety of explanations.”

Bret Picciolo, Senior Director of Communications for the Northwest Region for Charter/Spectrum, offered a clarification.

“The Internet Protocol Fee is a fee we collect and pay to the City of Florence in accordance with local law,” Picciolo said. “The law allows us to collect the Internet Protocol Fee from customers and pay it to the city. … We have no role in how Florence uses the fees we collect and pay to the city. The Internet Protocol Fee is different from the franchise fee we collect and pay to the city on TV services. Similarly, we have no role in how franchise fees are used by the city.”

One of the other issues associated with the new billing itemization for Charter/Spectrum customers is the area in which they are allowed to operate and consequently charge for services.

Messmer again wanted to clarify the situation for Florence residents and others who have been receiving new FIP charges, which are not part of the agreement between the company and customers that reside outside of city limits.

“We have received complaints that people outside of the city limits saw the charge appear on their bills. We are working with our government representative on the back end as we receive these complaints to let them know when someone is charged who lives outside the city limits,” Messmer said. “We have provided city limit information to Charter/Spectrum and directed them to the resources to receive the more technical geographic information system (GIS) data from the Lane Council of Governments, which manages GIS data for jurisdictions within Lane County.”

These attempts by city staff to notify Charter/Spectrum of the need to only charge customers inside city limits have been heard by the company, which says it is working to incorporate the information from the city into its database to eliminate future incorrect charges.

Piccciolo also responded to this concern, saying, “We are working to credit a small number of area customers who were inadvertently charged Florence’s Internet Protocol Fee even though they live outside the city.”

The clarification of the issues surrounding the FIP are ongoing and any questions regarding these fees, particularly if a customer lives outside of Florence, should be directed to Charter/ Spectrum.

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