Posted at: 11/15/2013 8:50 PM
Updated at: 11/16/2013 8:32 AM
By: Stephen Tellier
A dispute between a city and a cable company -- with customers caught in the middle. Thousands of subscribers are potentially on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid fees, and now the case is heading to federal court.
If you look at your cable bill, you likely pay a small fee for "educational and governmental access programming." It's money that's often collected by cable companies and then handed over to the local government.
The dominant cable company in Lakeville hasn't collected such a fee in 15 years, and now the bill is coming due.
Brianna Gunderson likes her cable company, Charter Cable Partners, for one reason.
"They don't go out when the weather is not cooperating," Gunderson said. "Reliability."
But a very unexpected bill could hit her -- and about 11,000 other cable customers.
"I don't think it's anything that the customer should have to be responsible for," Gunderson said.
The City of Lakeville says Charter is required by contract to collect a fee of $0.50 per month from every customer, and then pass that money on to the city. But a year ago, Lakeville told Charter it hadn't received those fee payments in 15 years. Now, the city wants the $566,000 it claims it's owed.
Charter has responded with a federal lawsuit it filed on Wednesday. In it, Charter claims a Lakeville City Council vote years ago means the cable company never had to collect those fees in the first place. And the lawsuit states, "To comply with the City's demands, Charter would have to collect EG Access Fees retroactively from customers who may not even have taken Charter's service, let alone been residents of Lakeville, during the relevant period."
If customers have to pay the price, and it's split evenly among them, each would be on the hook for about $50 in back fees. And they're not keen on that calculation.
"It's not like it's something we overlooked. If it's the city or Charter, it would be on their dime to fix," Gunderson said.
Kim Haas, Director of Regional Communications for Charter Cable, provided this brief statement: "Charter looks forward to resolving this dispute in a way that is fair to the City, to Charter, and to Charter's customers."
Both the mayor of Lakeville and an attorney for the city declined to comment. But the city council has scheduled a special meeting for Monday evening, where it will discuss Charter's lawsuit behind closed doors.
Click here to download the lawsuit.