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Adelphia surprises council with attendance

Adelphia Cable representatives surprised nearly everyone at Thursday's Ironton City Council meeting -- first by showing up and then by saying that the city may get the WPBO channel back.

Tracee Tackett, operations manager for the Ashland-Ironton systems and Steve Trippe, area manager, came to the meeting to address the recent concerns about Wednesday's channel adjustments that added nine channels, but removed two from the basic service.

After originally telling Mayor Bob Cleary Thursday morning that no one would attend, Tackett talked with her supervisors and changed the plans. Trippe said he drove from Chillicothe Thursday as soon as he found out he was asked to attend.

The latest complaints come from replacing Ohio Public Television, WPBO, with WKAS, a public broadcast channel from Kentucky. In addition to WPBO, Turner Classic Movies was moved to the digital service, so basic cable subscribers also lost it, Tackett said.

Tackett, an 18-year employee of Adelphia, said that keeping WPBO would require additional equipment and would be expensive to bring the channel from Portsmouth now that Adelphia receives all its programming from Huntington, W.Va.

She said that the company is legally obligated to carry the Kentucky channel. However, after learning that the Ironton Middle School used the channel, she said she contacted WKAS to see if they would allow WPBO to be carried as well.

Channel adjustments include the addition of several new channels -- Women's Entertainment (59), National Geographic (63), BET (64), Biography (67), Bravo (71), Oxygen (72), Shop NBC (74), Product Information Network (75), WKAS public broadcasting (7), C-SPAN 2 full-time (17) and the Inspirational Network (21), Tackett said.

"These are very popular channels," Tackett said. "We determine which to add based on customer's letters and requests."

The changes actually enhanced the cable service because it allows similar channels, such as sports and news channels, to be grouped together, she said.

By moving WSAZ from channel 3 to channel 4 and WOWK from 13 to 12, it also eliminated "ghosting" -- the duplication of an image on-screen, Tackett said.

Trippe said that he understand that no one likes change, but that this final phase of the company's upgrade will provide better service in the long run. Overall, he said the company has implemented incredible changes during the past 5 years and now offers practically everything available.

The offer to add the Ohio News Network is still available if the community is willing to sacrifice WLWT, an ABC network out of Cincinnati that primarily shows only news and is blacked out about 70 percent of the time, Trippe said.

Virtually every council member expressed his dissatisfaction with Adelphia's recent decisions.

In recent months, Councilman Richard Price has been one of Adelphia's biggest critics.

"I just have to wonder if you listen to the people in Ironton at all," he said. "This is not the entertainment we want. It seems it falls on deaf ears when you come to the meetings."

Councilman Brent Pyles said the frustration seems to be mounting for Ironton residents who do not feel like their interests are heard.

"Of all the hundreds of channels, I could care less about all but three or four," he said. "The rest are meaningless to me."

Councilman Jim Tordiff asked Trippe and Tackett if they understood just how important the Ohio channels were to the area.

"We are a small rural community struggling with quality of life issues and economic development," he said. "Those stations are our view to the world."

Jesse Roberts, council chairman, stressed to the audience that the council has no power over Adelphia's decisions.

The city's franchise agreement that expires in 2006 only mandates that Adelphia act as a proper business within the city and maintain liability insurance and other legal requirements,. It does not give council or the city the ability to tell Adelphia how to run its business regarding prices and channel lineup, he said.

This is yet another in a series of concerns about the city's cable television service.

In May, Adelphia began substituting WBNS, channel 10, out of Columbus with C-SPAN, to avoid duplicating programming with WOWK Channel 13 out of Huntington, W.Va. In February, residents protested against Adelphia's plans to add adult channels to the city's cable lineup.

The pay-per-view channels were added to digital service anyway.

In June, Adelphia executives announced the company would raise its subscription rates for the second time within a year.

Tackett said she and her supervisor, Larry Matthews, will attend the next meeting.