Grosse Pointe ShoresAugust 9, 2012
Shores considers new ordinance to increase cable competition
By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer
GROSSE POINTE SHORES — A strong ordinance that prohibits door-to-door sales seems to be preventing residents from choosing the services of at least one local cable provider.
City officials say they’d love to be able to offer their residents additional cable options — Shores residents can now purchase these services from Comcast and AT&T’s U-verse. But cable provider Wide Open West Michigan LLC — better known by its acronym, WOW — says its sales depend on door-to-door solicitation, and in the Shores, that’s against a city ordinance.
It’s an issue that’s been debated for some time as officials have been trying to come up with a way to allow WOW’s sales team to come to the city while preventing a range of other salespeople from doing the same. City Attorney Mark McInerney — who addressed this topic most recently at a July 17 City Council meeting — said the city’s peddlers and solicitors ordinance, adopted about 20 years ago, doesn’t currently allow for the type of sales WOW does, and the city would need to amend it to enable the provider to do business in the Shores.
McInerney said solicitors are defined by the ordinance to include political candidates and those affiliated with nonprofits. They’re permitted to go door-to-door in the city, as long as they first register with the Public Safety Department, he said. However, peddlers — who are defined as anyone engaging in for-profit activities — are prohibited at all times, McInerney said.
People selling magazines prompted the original ordinance, he said. Such salespeople still show up in the Shores, but there are penalties if they do; as Lt. William Nicholson noted, the Public Safety Department arrests several magazine salespeople each year for violating the city’s ordinance.
The city can’t grant the right to WOW representatives to peddle and not to any other businesses, but McInerney believes he may have come up with a workable compromise. The attorney told the council he drafted a proposed ordinance that would allow sellers of electronic, voice and data services to do door-to-door sales in the city. McInerney said the rationale for such a new rule would be the fact that these are services almost every household has or needs, and the demand for such services is only expected to increase in the coming years. It would be limited to service provided in the city, and there’s a clause that lets residents who choose to do so to opt out of such solicitation, he said.
Interim City Manager Mark Wollenweber said any deviation from the current ordinance opens the door for additional visits by salespeople, but McInerney’s proposed change limits allowable peddlers to representatives of Comcast, AT&T, WOW and any other new companies providing these services. He said the companies would need a franchise from the city first, and only cable television providers have secured franchises, meaning that companies that only offer cellphone service wouldn’t be able to hawk their wares in Shores neighborhoods.
“I think there is an opportunity to proceed this way without opening the door too far,” Wollenweber told the council.
Providers of only phone and Internet services, such as Verizon Wireless, wouldn’t be able to peddle in the Shores because they don’t have a franchise for cable, he said.
City Council member Kay Felt asked why WOW couldn’t just send out notices in the mail to Shores residents and then visit the ones who responded. WOW representatives have told officials in the past that door-to-door sales is a crucial part of their business model. Last spring, the Grosse Pointe Woods City Council gave WOW permission to solicit in the city; the cable provider was installing lines in the city around that time. WOW provided Woods officials with a list of the representatives and supervisors who would be visiting residents.
City Council member Daniel Schulte said he was “strongly in favor of competition,” but suggested they revisit the idea of mailings before changing the city’s ordinance. He was also concerned that the change could leave the city open to legal challenge, although McInerney said the rationale for the new ordinance made it permissible.
Some residents are apprehensive about the proposed ordinance change. Jan Pemberton recalled being solicited by Comcast, and wasn’t in favor of allowing door-to-door cable sales.
“I don’t particularly want solicitors. … I don’t know why we have to be accommodating,” she said.
Wollenweber said residents who didn’t want cable sales personnel knocking on their doors could post a “no solicitors” sign provided by the city. The Shores could then enforce that, he said.
The council agreed to table the matter until its next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 21.
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