(1) "Applicant" means a person who initiates an application or proposal.
(2) "Application" means an unsolicited filing for a cable franchise.
(3) "Basic cable service" means any service tier which includes the retransmission of local television broadcast signals.
(4) "Cable franchise" or "franchise" means a nonexclusive initial authorization or renewal thereof issued pursuant to this chapter, whether the authorization is designated as a franchise, permit, order, contract, agreement or otherwise, which authorizes the construction or operation of a cable system.
(5) "Cable operator" means any person or group of persons: (A) Who provides cable service over a cable system and directly or through one or more affiliates owns a significant interest in the cable system; or (B) who otherwise controls or is responsible for, through any arrangement, the management and operation of a cable system.
(6) "Cable service" means: (A) The one-way transmission to subscribers of video programming or other programming service; and (B) subscriber interaction, if any, which is required for the selection of video programming or other programming service.
(7) "Cable system" means any facility within this state consisting of a set of closed transmission paths and associated signal generation, reception and control equipment that is designed to provide cable service which includes video programming and which is provided to multiple subscribers within a community, but does not include: (A) A facility that serves only to retransmit the television signals of one or more television broadcast stations; (B) a facility that serves only subscribers in one or more multiple unit dwellings under common ownership, control or management, unless that facility or facilities uses any public right-of-way; or (C) a facility of a public utility subject, in whole or in part, to the provisions of chapter twenty-four of this code, except to the extent that those facilities provide video programming directly to subscribers.
(8) "Commission" or "public service commission" means the public service commission of West Virginia.
(9) "County commission" means the commissioners composing the county commission in pursuance of section nine, article IX of the constitution of this state within whose jurisdiction there exists a cable system or where such cable system is hereafter constructed, operated, acquired or extended.
(10) "Facility" includes all real property, antennas, poles, supporting structures, wires, cables, conduits, amplifiers, instruments, appliances, fixtures and other personal property used by a cable operator in providing service to its subscribers.
(11) "Franchising authority" means a municipality, a county commission or the public service commission empowered by federal, state or local law to grant a cable franchise.
(12) "Institution of higher education" means an academic college or university accredited by the north central association of colleges and schools.
(13) "Municipality" means any municipal corporation duly chartered in the state of West Virginia within whose jurisdiction there exists a cable system or where such cable system is hereafter constructed, operated, acquired or extended.
(14) "Other programming service" means information that a cable operator makes available to all subscribers generally.
(15)"Person" means an individual, partnership, association, joint stock company, trust, corporation or governmental agency.
(16)"Proposal" means a filing solicited by the franchising authority for a cable franchise.
(17)"Public, educational or governmental access facilities" means: (A) Channel capacity designated for public, educational or governmental uses; and (B) facilities and equipment for the use of that channel capacity.
(18)"Public place" includes any property, building, structure or water to which the public has a right of access and use.
(19)"School" means an academic and noncollege type regular or special education institution of learning established and maintained by the department of education and the arts or licensed and supervised by that department.
(20)"Service area" means that geographic area for which a cable operator has been issued a cable franchise.
(21)"Video programming" means programming provided by, or generally considered comparable to programming provided by, a television broadcast station.
(b) Any person operating a cable system on the effective date of this chapter without a franchise shall, within sixty days of the effective date of this chapter, notify the commission in writing setting forth: (1) The name, business address and telephone number of the cable operator; (2) the principals and ultimate beneficial owners of the cable system or systems; (3) the geographic location and service area of any cable system operated by such person; (4) the number of subscribers within the cable system or systems; and (5) if applicable, the date on which and the franchising authority with which, a formal application for a franchise was filed.
(c) The commission shall, upon receipt of such information, determine the appropriate franchising authority or authorities for the purposes of the consideration of the issuance of a franchise to such cable operator or operators and shall notify the appropriate franchising authority or authorities and any such cable system operator of the franchise application procedures to be followed by the respective parties. Any such cable operator, that has not previously applied for a franchise with the appropriate franchising authority, shall, within sixty days of receipt of such notice from the commission, make formal application to the appropriate franchising authority or authorities for a franchise in accordance with the provisions of this article.
(d) The franchising authority shall be the municipality in which a cable system is to be constructed, operated, acquired or extended, or if there be no such municipality or if the municipality so elects not to act as a franchising authority, then the franchising authority shall be the county commission of the county in which such cable system is to be constructed, operated, acquired or extended: Provided, That nothing herein shall prohibit any county commission of a county in which a municipality acting as a franchising authority is located from also acting as a franchising authority for any cable system to be constructed, operated, acquired or extended within the jurisdiction of such county commission, nor prohibit any county commission of a county acquiring the franchise authority from a municipality from electing to transfer such authority to the commission.
(e) If a county commission elects not to act as the franchise authority, the commission shall become the franchising authority. A county commission acting as a franchising authority for unincorporated areas of the county may elect separately to transfer to the commission any franchise authority acquired from a municipality. If any municipality or county commission so elects not to be the franchising authority, the mayor or president of the county commission shall certify such delegation in writing to the commission. Such election shall be promptly made upon written request of the commission or the cable operator.
(b) For purposes of subsection (a) of this section and other provisions of this article, a cable franchise shall be considered in effect on the effective date of this article if such franchise was granted on or before such effective date.
(a) To the extent permitted by, and not contrary to applicable federal law, rules and regulations:
(1) Prescribe standards for procedures and practices which franchising authorities shall follow in considering the issuance of cable franchises, which standards shall provide for the forms of applications and proposals, the filing of all franchise applications, proposals and related documents as public records, with reasonable notice to the public that such records are open to inspection and examination during reasonable business hours; the holding of a public hearing, upon reasonable notice to the public, at which the applications or proposals shall be examined and members of the public and interested parties are afforded a reasonable opportunity to express their views thereon; the rendition of a written report by the franchising authority made to the public, setting forth the reasons for its decision in awarding or not awarding the franchise; and such other procedural standards governing the issuance of cable franchises mandated by the provisions of this article or as the commission may otherwise deem necessary or appropriate to assure maximum public participation and competition and to protect the public interest;
(2) Prescribe minimum standards for inclusion in franchises, including maximum initial and renewal terms; minimum channel capacity; provisions regarding public, educational or governmental access facilities; a requirement that no such franchise may be exclusive; standards necessary or appropriate to protect the interests of viewers of free broadcast television and the public generally, which prohibit or limit cable operators from prohibiting or entering into agreements prohibiting the sale or other transfer of rights for the simultaneous or subsequent transmission over free broadcast television; and such other standards for inclusion in franchises as the commission shall deem necessary or appropriate to protect the public interest, including any provision regulating the rates for cable services to the extent that the same is not in conflict with federal law, rules or regulations;
(3) Prescribe standards by which a franchising authority shall determine whether an applicant possesses: (i) The technical ability; (ii) the financial ability; (iii) the good character; and (iv) other qualifications necessary to operate a cable system in the public interest;
(4) Prescribe standards for the construction and operation of cable systems, which standards shall be designed to promote: (i) Safe, adequate and reliable service to subscribers; (ii) the construction and operation of systems consistent with the most advanced state of the art; (iii) a construction schedule providing for maximum penetration as rapidly as possible within the limitations of economic feasibility; (iv) the construction of systems with the maximum practicable channel capacity, facilities for local program origination, facilities to provide service in areas conforming to various community interests, facilities with the technical capacity for interconnection with other systems within regions as established in the commission's statewide plan and facilities capable of transmitting signals from subscribers to the cable system or to other points; and (v) the prompt handling of inquiries, complaints and requests for repairs;
(5) Prescribe such standards for the prohibition or limitation of concentration of control over mass media and communication companies and facilities and methods of enforcing such standards, as the commission may determine to be necessary or appropriate to protect the public interest: Provided, That nothing contained herein shall be construed to authorize the impairment of any existing rights of any mass media and communication company or any subsidiary thereof;
(b) Provide advice and technical assistance to other franchising authorities and community organizations in matters relating to cable franchises and services;
(c) Establish minimum specifications for equipment, service and safety of cable;
(d) Represent the interests of citizens of this state before the federal communications commission and make available information to the public on communications developments at the federal level;
(e) Stimulate and encourage cooperative arrangements among organizations, institutions, counties and municipalities in the development of public, educational or governmental access facilities;
(f) Maintain liaison with the communications industry and other parties, both public and private, having an interest therein, other states and political subdivisions of this state to promote the rapid and harmonious development of cable services as set forth in the legislative findings and intent of this article;
(g) Undertake such studies as may be necessary to meet the responsibilities and objectives of this article; and
(h) Implement the provisions of this article in a manner which is cognizant of the differing financial and administrative capabilities of cable systems of different sizes.
(b) An application for issuance of a cable franchise shall be made on a form prescribed by the commission. The application shall set forth the facts as required by the commission to determine whether a cable franchise should be issued, including facts as to:
(1) The citizenship and character of the applicant;
(2) The financial, technical and other qualifications of the applicant;
(3) The principals and ultimate beneficial owners of the applicant;
(4) The public interest to be served by the requested issuance of a cable franchise; and
(5) Any other matters deemed appropriate and necessary by the commission including the proposed plans and schedule of expenditures for or in support of the use of public, educational and governmental access facilities.
(c) A proposal for issuance of a cable franchise shall be accepted for filing only when made in response to the written request of the franchising authority for the submission of proposals.
(1) After the application or proposal and required fee are received by the franchising authority within a time frame established by rule promulgated by the commission, the franchising authority shall notify an applicant in writing of the acceptance or nonacceptance for filing of an application or proposal for issuance of a cable franchise required by this chapter.
(2) After the issuance of a notice of acceptance for filing and within a time frame established by rule promulgated by the commission, the franchising authority shall hold a public hearing on the application or proposal to afford interested persons the opportunity to submit data, views or arguments, orally or in writing. If the franchising authority is the commission, notice thereof shall be given to the city council and mayor of any municipalities affected, the county commission of any counties affected and to any telephone or other utility and cable company in the county or counties in which the proposed service area is located, and a representative of the governing body of a municipality or county commission may appear at the public hearing to represent the interests of the public which will be served by the issuance of a cable franchise. The franchising authority shall also cause notice of the application and hearing to be published at least once in each of two successive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the county or counties in which the proposed service area is located. The last published notice shall appear at least fifteen days prior to the date of the hearing.
(3) After holding a public hearing, the franchising authority shall approve the application or proposal, in whole or in part, with or without conditions or modifications, or shall deny the application or proposal, with reasons for denial sent in writing to the applicant. Upon denial of the application or proposal, the applicant may appeal such denial to the circuit court of the county in which the franchise is to be located, which appeal shall be filed and considered in accordance with the provisions of section four, article five, chapter twenty-nine-a of this code.
(4) The provisions of this article supersede and replace all other state requirements regarding the issuance, notification and terms and conditions of a cable franchise.
(b) The franchising authority, after a public hearing as provided in this article, shall issue a cable franchise to the applicant when the franchising authority is convinced that it is in the public interest to do so. In determining whether a cable franchise shall be issued, the franchising authority shall take into consideration, among other things, any objections arising from the public hearing, the content of the application or proposal, the public need for the proposed service, the ability of the applicant to offer safe, adequate and reliable service at a reasonable cost to the subscribers, the suitability of the applicant, the financial responsibility of the applicant, the technical and operational ability of the applicant to perform efficiently the service for which authority is requested, and any other matters as the franchising authority considers appropriate in the circumstances.
(c) In determining the area which is to be serviced by the applicant, the franchising authority shall take into account the geography and topography of the proposed service area, and the present, planned and potential expansion in facilities or cable services of the applicant's proposed cable system and any of the applicant's existing cable systems.
(d) In issuing a cable franchise under this article, the franchising authority is not restricted to approving or disapproving the application or proposal, but may issue it for only partial exercise of the privilege sought or may attach to the exercise of the right granted by the cable franchise terms, limitations which the franchising authority considers the public interest may require. The cable franchise shall be nonexclusive, shall include a description of the service area in which the cable system is to be constructed, extended or operated and the approximate date on which the service is to commence and shall authorize the cable operator to provide service for a term of fifteen years.
(b) The technical specifications, general routes of the distribution system and the schedule for construction of the cable system are subject to the approval of the franchising authority.
(c) In installing, operating and maintaining facilities, the cable operator shall avoid all unnecessary damage and injury to any trees, structures and improvements in and along the routes authorized by the franchising authority.
(d) The cable operator shall indemnify and hold the state, county and municipality harmless at all times from any and all claims for injury and damage to persons or property, both real and personal, caused by the installation, operation or maintenance of its cable system, notwithstanding any negligence on the part of the state, county and/or municipality, their employees or agents. Upon receipt of notice in writing from the state, county and/or municipality, the cable operator shall, at its own expense, defend any action or proceeding against the state, county and/or municipality in which it is claimed that personal injury or property damage was caused by activities of the cable operator in the installation, operation or maintenance of its cable system.
(e) The cable operator shall provide a cable drop and basic cable service at no cost to any school or institution of higher education within its service area if service is actually being delivered within a reasonable distance from the school or institution of higher education which may request service.
(f) The cable operator shall be required to designate at least ten percent but not more than three of all of its channels for public, educational or governmental use.
(g) Upon termination of the period of the cable permit or of any renewal thereof, by passage of time or otherwise, the cable operator shall remove its facilities from the highways and other public places in, on, over, under or along which they are installed if so ordered by the franchising authority and shall restore the areas to their original or other acceptable condition or otherwise dispose of its facilities. If removal is not completed within six months of the termination, any property not removed shall be deemed to have been abandoned and the cable operator shall be liable for the cost of its removal.
(h) The use of public highways and other public places shall be subject to:
(l) All applicable state statutes, municipal ordinances and all applicable rules and orders of the commission governing the construction, maintenance and removal of overhead and underground facilities of public utilities;
(2) For county highways, all applicable rules adopted by the governing body of the county in which the county highways are situated; and
(3) For state or federal-aid highways, all public welfare rules adopted by the secretary of the department of transportation.
(i) In the use of easements dedicated for compatible uses, the cable operator shall ensure:
(1) That the safety, functioning and appearance of the property and the convenience and safety of other persons is not adversely affected by the installation or construction of facilities necessary for a cable system;
(2) That the cost of the installation, construction, operation or removal of facilities is borne by the cable operator or subscribers, or a combination of both; and
(3) That the owner of the property is justly compensated by the cable operator for any damages caused by the installation, construction, operation or removal of facilities by the cable operator.
(4) An "easement dedicated for compatible uses" is a public or private easement for electric, gas, telephone or other utility transmission.
(a) Any cable franchise issued in accordance with the provisions of this chapter may be revoked, altered or suspended by the franchising authority upon the recommendation of the commission to a municipality or county acting as a franchising authority or after a hearing before the franchising authority, for the following reasons:
(1) For making material false or misleading statements in, or for material omissions from, any application or proposal or other filing made with the franchising authority;
(2) For repeated failure to maintain signal quality under the standards prescribed by the commission;
(3) For any sale, lease, assignment or other transfer of its cable franchise without consent of the franchising authority;
(4) Except when commercially impracticable, for unreasonable delay in construction or operation or for unreasonable withholding of the extension of cable service to any person in a service area;
(5) For material violation of the terms of its cable franchise;
(6) For failure to substantially comply with this chapter or any rules, regulations or orders prescribed by the commission;
(7) For substantial violation of its filed schedule of terms and conditions of service; and
(8) For engaging in any unfair or deceptive act or practice.
(b) In lieu of, or in addition to, the relief provided by subsection (a) hereof, the franchising authority may fine a cable operator, for each violation under the provisions of this section, in an amount not less than fifty dollars nor more than five thousand dollars for each violation. Each day's continuance of a violation may be treated as a separate violation pursuant to rules and regulations adopted by the commission. Any penalty assessed under this section shall be in addition to any other costs, expenses or payments for which the cable operator is responsible under other provisions of this chapter.
(b) For cable franchises for which a proposal or application for renewal has been submitted by the cable operator to the franchising authority prior to expiration of the cable franchise and which application or proposal the franchising authority has neither approved nor denied, the cable franchise, at the cable operator's election, shall continue upon the same terms and conditions until such time as the franchising authority either approves or denies the application or proposal for renewal.
(b) Notice provisions may be prescribed by the commission for encumbrances creating potential transfers.
(c) The procedure for consideration of any transfer under the provisions of this section shall conform, as nearly as possible, to the procedures prescribed in sections six and seven of this article for the consideration of issuing cable franchises, including the application fee therefor.
(d) Except as otherwise provided in this section, the franchising authority shall have exclusive authority regarding the approval of transfers of cable franchises.
(b) To the extent permitted by federal law, the commission shall regulate rates to ensure that they are just and reasonable both to the public and to the cable operator and are not unduly discriminatory.
(c) To the extent permitted by federal law, the commission shall regulate charges other than those related to rates for the provision of basic cable service to ensure that they are just and reasonable and not unduly discriminatory.
(b) The commission shall require each cable operator to submit a schedule of all terms and conditions of service in the form and with the notice that the commission may prescribe. The schedule shall be submitted with the annual report referenced in section twenty-four of this article.
(c) The commission shall ensure that the terms and conditions upon which cable service is provided are fair both to the public and to the cable operator, taking into account the geographic, topographic and economic characteristics of the service area and the economics of providing cable service to subscribers in the service area.
(b) Each cable operator shall restore interrupted service not later than twenty-four hours after being notified by a subscriber that service has been interrupted, unless: (1) Service cannot be restored until another company repairs facilities owned by such company and leased to, or required for the operation of, the cable service; (2) the interruption was caused by an act of nature; or (3) the cable operator is unable to restore service within twenty-four hours due to extenuating circumstances. In the event of such extenuating circumstances, the company shall restore service as soon as feasible and then submit a written notice to the commission indicating that service has been restored and explaining the nature of the extenuating circumstances.
(b) The commission may promulgate rules establishing a viewing time reliability standard for cable operators and requiring such companies to file with the commission information on service interruptions not caused by subscribers.
(1) Informs subscribers how to communicate their views and complaints to the cable operator and to the commission;
(2) States the responsibility of the commission to receive and act on consumer complaints concerning matters other than channel selection, programming and rates; and
(3) States the policy regarding the method by which subscribers may request rebates or pro rata credit as described in section sixteen of this article.
(b) The notice shall be in nontechnical language, understandable by the general public, and in a convenient format. On or before the thirtieth day of January each year, the operator shall certify to the franchising authority and the commission that it has distributed the notice as provided in this section during the previous calendar year as required by this section.
(b) The record or log shall contain the following information for each complaint received:
(1) Date, time, nature of complaint;
(2) Name, address, telephone number of complainant;
(3) Investigation of complaint; and
(4) Manner and time of resolution of complaint.
(c) Consistent with the subscriber privacy provisions contained in 47 U.S.C. §551 as the same is in effect on the effective date of this chapter, every cable operator shall make the logs or records, or both, of such complaints available to any authorized agent of the commission and the franchising authority, upon request during normal business hours for on-site review.
(b) Within sixty days of the granting of an initial franchise, a renewal franchise or a transferred franchise, the franchisee shall file a copy of the franchise and any federal communications commission rulings or other rulings affecting such franchise with the commission and the franchising authority. The commission and franchising authority shall maintain a file of all franchise documents so recorded and make copies available upon request for the cost of reproduction and mailing, plus a reasonable administrative fee. The filing fee for initial, renewal or transfer franchise documents is fifty dollars per franchise, renewal or transfer of such franchise. In years in which the filing of initial, renewal or transfer franchise documents is not required, the franchisee shall pay a fee of twenty-five dollars for each franchise it holds.
(c) All such fees paid by any cable operator are franchise fees with the intent and meaning of 47 U.S.C. §542 as the same is in effect on the effective date of this chapter.
(b) The commission shall resolve all complaints, if possible informally. No form of informal complaint is prescribed, but the writing must contain the essential elements of a complaint, including the name and address of the complainant, the correct name of the cable operator against which the complaint is made, a clear and concise statement of the facts involved and a request for affirmative relief.
(c) In the event that the commission cannot resolve the complaint to the satisfaction of all parties, the complainant may file a formal request to the commission and the complainant and cable operator shall be afforded all rights including the right of appeal as set forth in chapter twenty-four of this code.
(d) A cable operator may be subject to a fine or civil penalty in accordance with subsection (e) hereof, upon a determination by the commission or court that the cable operator has violated any of the following:
(1) The material terms of its cable franchise; or
(2) Substantial compliance with this article or rules or orders prescribed by the commission.
(e) The commission may fine or obtain civil penalties against a cable operator for each violation of subsection (d) of this section in an amount not less than one hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars for each violation. Any penalty assessed under this section is in addition to any other costs, expenses or payments for which the cable operator is responsible under other provisions of this section.
(f) In addition to fines and civil penalties, the commission may determine and declare and by order require for violation of subsection (d) of this section the cable operator to comply with the terms of its franchise or the requirements of this article or orders prescribed by the commission.
(g)No cable operator may raise rates or retier and charge subscribers without providing to his or her subscribers sufficient advance written notice and opportunity to discontinue service.
(b) The commission may adopt rules and regulations as are necessary to implement the provisions of this article. The rules and regulations promulgated by the cable advisory board pursuant to repealed article eighteen, chapter five, and in force and in effect on the thirty-first day of December, one thousand nine hundred ninety-seven, shall remain in effect and hereby become the rules and regulations of the commission.
(c) The commission or the commission's designated representatives may, from time to time, visit the places of business and other premises and examine the records and facilities of all cable operators to ascertain if all laws, rules, regulations and cable franchise provisions have been complied with, and may examine all officers, agents and employees of cable operators and all other persons, under oath, and compel the production of papers and the attendance of witnesses to obtain the information necessary for administering this article.
(d) The commission may appoint or contract for assistants and clerical, stenographic and other staff as may be necessary for the proper administration and enforcement of this article.
(e) The commission or other aggrieved party may institute, or intervene as a party in, any action in any court of law seeking a mandamus, or injunctive or other relief to compel compliance with this chapter, or any rule, regulation, or order adopted hereunder, or to restrain or otherwise prevent or prohibit any illegal or unauthorized conduct in connection with this article.
(b) Any filing fee required under the provisions of this chapter and the annual fee to be paid to the commission under the provisions of this section, together with any franchise fee paid to any franchising authority, may not exceed the maximum amount for any franchise fee as set forth in 47 U.S.C. §542 as the same is in effect on the effective date of this article.
(c) The commission shall not impose on or collect from any cable operator franchise fees when acting in the capacity as a franchising authority, other than fees set out in subsection (a) of this section and any filing fee required by this article.
Note: WV Code updated with legislation passed through the 2016 Regular Session
The West Virginia Code Online is an unofficial copy of the annotated WV Code, provided as a convenience. It has NOT been edited for publication, and is not in any way official or authoritative.