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Comcast Cable Franchise Renewal

Have you got something to say about Comcast Cable service? The City wants to hear from you before starting its negotiations with Comcast on its next ten-year franchise agreement.

Until May 31st, you can complete the City’s Office of Cable Communications online survey. I also encourage you to complete their online comment form. The Office is conducting a statistically valid telephone poll, as well.

TV RETROAs part of the franchise renewal process, the City commissioned an engineering report on the State of the Art and Evolution of Cable Television and Broadband Technology. Since the cable franchise runs ten years, it’s helpful to understand how the cable industry is changing and how it might continue changing as technology and culture evolves.

As the nation’s largest cable television provider, Comcast is currently the primary source for cable television in Seattle, serving approximately 150,000 subscribers. It operates in Seattle under a franchise agreement that took effect in January of 2006 and expires in January of 2016. The agreement allows Comcast to use the City’s public rights-of-way (ROW) in return for paying the City certain rental fees – known as franchise fees – and other public benefits.

Franchise agreements impose various obligations on cable providers including compensating the City for use of the ROW, protecting the rights and interests of Seattle residents and cable subscribers, and providing certain public benefits.

The process of renewing a cable franchise is governed by federal law (Section 626 Cable Act, 47 CFR 546). Renewal happens during the 3 year period before a franchise expires. This provides the City time needed to evaluate the cable operator’s compliance with its legal and franchise obligations; determine customers’ future cable-related needs and interests; and negotiate with a cable provider on the conditions of a renewed franchise agreement.

CablesDuring a cable franchise renewal, the City is empowered to conduct an “ascertainment,” which means determining community needs and interests; identify circumstances where a cable operator failed to live up to its obligations; deny a renewal after a formal process has determined the cable operator failed to meet certain criteria; and hold the cable operator accountable for customer-service expectations contained in the City’s Cable Customer Bill of Rights.

However, section 626 of the federal Cable Act prohibits the City of Seattle from pursuing a number of other goals when negotiating a cable franchise. We cannot control: prices Comcast charges customers for cable modems or cable TV, with the exception of the price for their Limited Basic TV package; the commercial channels Comcast makes available, although the City can require certain categories of programming; or anything having to do with Internet services, because that is not considered a function of cable television and is not included in the franchise agreement.

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