The city of Redondo Beach is deciding whether to prosecute Time Warner Cable under vandalism laws after the communications company used a guerilla marketing campaign to advertise its WiFi service earlier this month, City Prosecutor Melanie Chavira told Patch on Monday.
To let people know about its new WiFi service, TWC used blue chalk to write messages on the Esplanade. When people discovered the messages on July 5, they quickly called District 1 Councilman Steve Aspel.
"Beginning bright and early ... my phone started ringing, as did the emails and text messages and photos," Aspel told TWC Director of Government Relations Steven Sawyer during the July 10 city council meeting. "It really pissed me off, and everybody in the neighborhood, too ... Please have your company or whoever does this not do it again."
He added that "no one knew it was chalk."
Sawyer apologized and defended his company, stating that it thought the chalk didn't violate any city codes.
"I ... apologize for the outrage over the markings on the sidewalk," he said. "We've done these markings in other cities and have never had an issue."
But it wasn't only the chalk markings that angered the city. The city staff and TWC had met a year and a half ago to discuss installing WiFi in the beach and harbor areas.
"City staff's response was one of openness and consideration," said Assistant City Manager Marissa Christiansen in a presentation to the council. "We were a little surprised because (the WiFi installation is) not something that's been approved or authorized by the city."
Sawyer said that it was his understanding that the meetings were to "enhance the deployment of the WiFi system"; however, TWC planned to put up the WiFi boxes on its cable lines anyway.
The representative from TWC who attended the original meetings was on vacation at the time of the council meeting, Sawyer said.
According to City Manager Bill Workman, the city was going to allow TWC to hang its devices in the city's right of way, and the city would receive services in return.
"When we actually saw the markings on the sidewalk and put two and two together that it had all gone on without all the things we had discussed in those meetings, we, too, were very upset," Workman said. "Very clearly, this is outside of their state franchise and I would debate them very strenuously" about the company's ability to install its WiFi boxes without a building permit.
TWC currently has a state franchise to provide cable services to customers, but the company cannot provide other services, such as WiFi, to the general public under the franchise.
Emails to Patch from TWC public relations representatives indicate that the $15 million WiFi network was first launched in the Los Angeles area—possibly including Redondo Beach—in September of last year.