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Payson seeks better cable service

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PAYSON — Cable television is causing quite a stir in Payson and it has nothing to do with programming.

City leaders this week derided AT&T Broadband for not offering Payson subscribers the same number of channels as it does in the Salt Lake area while charging the same amount. And, they say, some Payson areas are still without cable services.

The City Council approved a resolution opposing HB149, the Telecommunications Service Act passed this year by the Legislature. Council members also pledged to lobby for the repeal of the act.

The Utah telecommunications law allows cities to offer cable TV services — but makes it difficult and expensive, said City Attorney David Tucker.

The law bans cities from providing service outside their boundaries. It would preclude Payson, if it had a TV cable system, from servicing neighboring Elk Ridge, where most residents use satellite systems to get service, Tucker said.

The law also bans low-interest bonding or the use of tax or city utility funds to build a telecommunications service.

"We can't undercut private providers," Tucker said, noting the measure was backed by AT&T and other telecom companies.

AT&T spokeswoman Barb Shelley defended the company's support for the act, saying that it would be unfair to the private sector if government entities entered the market.

Governments wouldn't have to pay property taxes and could create policies to stifle competition from outside telecom firms.

"We don't want to compete against our regulator," she said.

Shelley also said AT&T recently spent $250 million to upgrade its service along the Wasatch Front. Upgrades haven't gotten as far south as Payson, however.

"We just don't have the capital dollars to do an upgrade this year," Shelley said.

Neighboring Spanish Fork is currently in the process of putting a city-owned system in place. The city had already put bonding and other funding mechanisms in place for its community TV and Internet service before the new law was passed and will not be affected by the act.

But, the act does prohibit Spanish Fork from expanding the TV service to neighboring Payson or any other city.

While the act prohibits communities from working together to build a similar system, Tucker complains that "private providers are not stepping up to provide that service."

The council's resolution will be given to Rep. Darin Peterson, R-Nephi. Peterson was one of five legislators who opposed HB149, and the only one to respond to Tucker's e-mails to legislators regarding the bill, Tucker said.

E-MAIL: rodger@desnews.com