Couch potatoes of Mesa, unite!
A citizens group sponsored in part by Cox Communications launched an initiative Wednesday that promises to keep residents’ cable bills from increasing.
The initiative drive by the newly formed Citizens for Lower Taxes would prohibit Mesa from asking for concessions when negotiating operating license agreements with cable companies.
It also would require Mesa to reduce its cable licensing tax from 5 percent of gross annual sales to 3 percent and prevent the city from levying a tax on high-speed Internet service.
In exchange, the initiative would require cable companies to offer free connections to kindergarten through 12th-grade schools and provide Mesa with four municipal channels.
Mesa and Cox are engaged in heated negotiations over the renewal of the cable company’s 15-year operating license, which expires in September. City officials want perks such as $2.2 million over 15 years to buy equipment for the city’s TV studio, which Cox executives say is unreasonable.
Cox has produced a series of ads warning customers that granting Mesa’s demands could increase cable prices by as much as $2 a month. However, the city claims the actual amount would be more like 12 cents to 18 cents. Mesa’s differences with Cox also have prompted a lawsuit over the city’s request for a Mesa-only emergency alert system.
Kirk Adams, chairman of Citizens for Lower Taxes, said it was his local Republican district, not Cox, which conceived the initiative. The group needs to gather about 6,000 signatures by November in order to put the measure up for a public vote, said Adams, who also owns an insurance agency.
Adams admits that cable companies and industry organizations are involved in the effort to sway public opinion against the concessions.
"We absolutely have gone back to Cox and Cable America for their input," he said, as well as about $5,000 worth of services, including free advertising on cable TV.
The group held a 30-minute demonstration Wednesday in front of Mesa City Hall that included speeches by Adams and state Rep. Chuck Gray, RMesa. Adams said about 75 residents attended, in addition to event organizers.
However, Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker said the demonstration wasn’t quite the typical grass-roots rally.
"It appeared to me that there were a lot of Cox Communications employees present," Hawker said. "I don’t know if they were bused in or what."
If successful, the initiative would change Mesa’s charter and force cable companies to provide certain services, which Hawker said may or may not be legal.