Thou shall, or not

By Jayson Jacoby, The Baker City Herald

Charter Communications apparently defines the word "shall" differently than we do.

The company, which supplies cable TV to Baker City, seems to think "shall" means "we'll do it until we decide we don't want to any more."

We believe shall means precisely what the dictionary says it means: "must."

So do Baker City officials. Which is why, when they signed an agreement

12 years ago that allows Charter to run its coaxial cables and other

equipment on public rights-of-way, they included in the deal this


"The Grantee (that's Charter) shall at all times maintain within the

City a local business office which shall be open during normal business

hours, Monday through Friday, excluding legal holidays."

Cities across Oregon have such deals, known as franchise agreements,

with cable TV providers, phone companies and other utilities that use

public rights-of-way.

In exchange, the utilities pay the city a fee (in Charter's case, 5

percent of the gross revenue it collects from customers inside the

Baker City limits) and agree to comply with other terms of the


Yet Charter recently informed the city - and its local customers by way

of a mailing - that it will close its Baker City business office this


That's a blatant violation of Charter's franchise, which doesn't expire until Dec. 31.

That franchise doesn't, however, prescribe any penalties should the company fail to maintain a business office.

City Manager Mike Kee did send Charter a letter, writing: "It is very

unfortunate that as we prepare to negotiate a new Franchise Agreement,

Charter has chosen to violate the current agreement."

Ultimately, Charter's decision to close its office is more insulting than it is traumatic.

At least the company pays fees, about $55,000 per year.

Still, a violation of a legal agreement should have consequences. As

city officials negotiate a new franchise with Charter, we'd suggest

they take a hard stance on fees. Six percent sounds more fair to us

than 5 percent.

The Baker City Herald
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