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Council to air complaints about cable service Time Warner planning to raise rates

Buffalo's cable television franchise is coming under fire from some Common Council members who accuse the company of delivering shoddy service even as it plans to raise rates.

Lawmakers are encouraging residents who have complaints about Time Warner Cable to attend a public hearing next week.

"They don't give a darn about an individual in this community," said Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis, who said he thinks subscribers would be better off without Time Warner as the city's cable provider.

A resolution sponsored by Michael P. Kearns of the South District and Michael J. LoCurto of Delaware said the Council has received complaints from customers, some of whom claim they've waited as long as 30 minutes to talk to cable representatives. Others have accused Time Warner of failing to reimburse them for loss of cable service during the October storm.

Still other concerns have focused on changes in the channel lineup, including Time Warner's making the NFL Network an extra-cost premium channel.

The controversies occur as the company plans to raise rates in Western New York by about 5 percent this winter. Customers who have the most popular channel package would see monthly bills increase by about $2.50.

Time Warner officials declined to comment on criticism from lawmakers, saying they would address issues at a hearing the Council will hold at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdayin City Hall.

"If people have concerns with Time Warner, they're welcome to come down," said Richard A. Fontana of Lovejoy, whose Legislation Committee will sponsor the forum.

Time Warner took over the city franchise last year after acquiring Adelphia Communications. The franchise expired more than a year ago, but state regulators have extended the pact through July, giving negotiators more time to finalize an agreement.

On another matter, the Council unanimously approved an increase in the city's Living Wage Law. The move would require companies that have big contracts with the city to pay their employees at least $9.59 an hour, or $10.77 an hour if they don't offer health benefits. The increase would amount to about 6 percent and must still be approved by Mayor Byron W. Brown.

The revised law would also adjust the living wage each year to reflect inflation.

But the government affairs manager for the area's largest business group warned the Council in a letter that the increases may "do more harm" than good to lower-skilled workers.

Craig W. Turner of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership said similar laws in other cities have seen companies cope with higher personnel costs by cutting the hours of some employees or eliminating jobs entirely. Turner said others have automated some jobs or displaced lower-skilled workers with people who have more skills.

Also at Tuesday's meeting, the Council:

Sent to committee a bill that challenges a state law allowing bar owners to admit underage people into their businesses as long as they don't serve them alcohol.

Unanimously approved a redevelopment plan for a building at 667 Main St. that will see Artvoice move into space that has been vacant for 19 years. Artvoice will pay $9,780 a year in rent for the next 10 years to occupy the rear of a building that is home to the Buffalo Youth Hostel. At the end of the 10th year, a company owned by publisher Jamie Moses could buy the building for $1. The city's development agency will also provide a $500,000 loan to Artvoice at 4.5 percent annual interest, money that will be used for rehabilitation, furniture, fixtures and equipment.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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