A White Knight For AFN?
At last Monday night’s City Council meeting, John Gaffey, the implacable foe of the City’s role as provider of Internet and cable TV service, was poised like a bullfighter to deliver the coup de grace. His arguments were sharp and unyielding, his voice tough and persuasive. He told the City Council they didn’t have to think anymore (what a relief). They could just pull the trigger, put this baby on ice, and return to … what? The days before the Internet? Dialup service? Charter service? As John’s argument wound to a close I remembered the image of Wile E. Coyote, just about four feet beyond the edge of the cliff, not realizing that he had run just a little too far. John’s ideas were clearly not going to carry the day with a City Council eager to avoid past mistakes, and willing to do homework past administrations let slide.
Then it got worse for Gaffey, as the unexpected arrival of a White Knight completely scuttled his hopes. Ron Kramer of JPR revealed a proposal that was, to some people, quite palatable. JPR would assume operational authority over the AFN system, both cable TV and Internet access. JPR would preserve the existing system of reselling Internet access through third party Internet Service Providers, such as Infostructure, Open Door, and JPR itself. Since these ISPs are important community members and employers, this is a vital deal point. Finally, JPR believed that it could contribute perhaps $360,000 or more per year to the City’s debt repayment plans.
After the City Council meeting, when asked what prompted JPR to make the eleventh hour proposal, Kramer said he had been shocked to discover that, despite the AFN Options Committee suggestion to “spinoff” AFN into a new nonprofit corporation, everyone seemed to conclude that a “sale to Charter” was a foregone conclusion. That jolted JPR into action.
Paul Mace, Options Committee Member, expressed support of the AFN/JPR alliance, and agreed with Mr. Kramer’s assertion that “synergies” in operations could immediately save hundreds of thousands of dollars for AFN while improving operations. While Councilors Dave Chapman and Russ Silbiger believe that AFN should simply “get out of the TV business,” an alliance with JPR, which already runs a TV station, would make that unnecessary. The AFP asked Mace why the Options Committee is so set on a sale or spinoff. Was it because AFN is being destroyed by the high cost of obtaining legal and accounting services through the City of Ashland’s “internal billing” system, that currently costs AFN $460,000 annually? Mace agreed that reducing these “Central Service” charges imposed by City administration is essential to AFN’s survival, and added, “When I got into this thing, I thought for sure they had a revenue problem, and they needed better marketing. But now I realize they have an expense problem.” CC