VALDOSTA -- The Valdosta City Council, per City Manager Larry Hanson's recommendation, tabled a decision on the telecommunications venture for two weeks.

During the citizens to be heard portion of the meeting, Hanson presented his recommendation.

"We have spent four years discussing this, and the (telecommunications advisory) committee has spent 18 months on this issue," Hanson said. "This is not a decision we want to take lightly. (Councilmen) know the committee had a favorable recommendation. We have been talking to some of the major players and in negotiations and making progress."

Hanson said he has been talking to MediaCom and BellSouth, trying to work out some of the issues the city had with the telecommunications providers. MediaCom told Hanson it would work on those issues, the city manager said.

"There are three main issues we have been talking about," Hanson said. "The first is the level of technology. MediaCom has spent a lot of money putting hybrid fiber coaxials in. The second issue was the level of customer service. MediaCom is working to address those problems and set high customer service levels. The third is programming and price. They are now putting a pricing proposal."

Hanson also said he has talked to BellSouth. BellSouth said the problems of customer service and no bill payment center would be issues it would work on, among others.

"BellSouth was willing to offer what it can within corporate limits," Hanson said.

The city manager hopes a proposal with a contract can be drawn up by next Thursday with both companies.

"Responsible government researches all avenues," Hanson said. "If we can come up with an issuance of long-term goals with a contract, I want to present it as an alternative to the city's proposal. In good faith, we should take some time to make sure this is right for our citizens."

Hanson asked the Council to postpone the issue for two weeks because he felt it was enough time to talk to the companies and a short enough time to get a decision.

"There is a sense of urgency here," Hanson said. "If both (companies) are sincere, then they will get something drafted. We began talks two weeks ago, and by the end of this two weeks, it will be a month. That is enough time."

Hanson said he began talking to the companies because he wanted to make absolutely sure the city was making the right decision.

"I had to make my own recommendation, and I want to make the right one," he said. "I owed it to the Council, myself and the citizens to talk to the companies one last time."

Hanson said he will not recommend another public hearing if the companies provide a suitable alternative, but it is up to Mayor John Fretti and the Council to make a final decision.

"We have done over and above what is lawful," Hanson said. "This is of great interest to the public, and it needs to be resolved."

The Council voted unanimously to postpone a decision for two weeks, to be heard at the June 24 meeting.

The Council commended Hanson and the TAC once again for its efforts.

"Have we thanked the committee enough?" Fretti said. "They, and you (Hanson), have done a great job with this, and we are looking forward to seeing what happens in two weeks."

Some of the telecommunications representatives were pleased with the Council's decision.

"We are very glad the Council decided to negotiate before making a final decision," said Steve Hazelhurst, member of the Communication Workers of America.

Courtney Brinson, regional manager at BellSouth, said he was glad for the postponement and hoped further talks would happen between the city and the other providers.

"This may be very beneficial to all involved," he said.

Some citizens were hoping a decision would have been made Thursday.

"I really feel they've made up their minds anyway, so they should just tell us their decision and move on," said Ami Smith, a local resident.

Hanson said his feeling from the public hearing Tuesday night was although the companies were not happy with the proposal, the general public was pleased.

"I think I counted about 14 people who spoke, and all but two did not work for a telecommunications business," he said. "The other two just had questions. That says to me that the citizens are happy with the proposal."

To contact reporter Michelle Taylor, please call 229-244-3400, ext. 245.

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