Champaign City Council Rejects Cable Franchise Renewal Offer From Comcast

August 19, 2009

The Champaign City Council voted Tuesday night to deny Comcast's proposal for a cable franchise renewal. But the two sides will continue their negotiations.

Champaign decided last December to negotiate with Comcast separately from Urbana --- but that hasn't meant fast progress on an agreement. City officials say the two sides are far apart. Councilwoman Marci Dodds outlined some of the points that she says Comcast wants to change from the old agreement.

"Comcast wants additional right-of-way that the city doesn't even have," says Dodds. "They don't want to comply with our city codes. And they don't wish to have a local service office or local office in general. These are all things that they"re asking to eliminate.

The city council's vote to reject the franchise offer from Comcast is a formal step covered by the Federal Cable Act, which is likely to be followed by an administrative hearing requested by Comcast. But both sides expect informal negotiations to continue alongside the formal process. And Comcast District Director Melody Brucker says they prefer to stick with the informal route.

"But if we don't and we have to go formal, that's okay too," Brucker told city council members Tuesday night. "We can do that. And we will continue to provide our current customers and our new customers with the same service and the expectations that they have received from us in the past."

Comcast officials say some of the disagreement may just be misunderstandings that can be cleared up. In the case of keeping a local office, Regional Director for Government Affairs Deb Piscola says that area is now covered by state law, which doesn't require a local office. Piscola expects Comcast to keep its local office, but says the company reserves the right to change its mind.

Champaign is negotiating its franchise with Comcast separately from Urbana --- a departure from previous franchise renewals. Urbana Alderman Charlie Smyth says he doesn't see a similar vote to reject a Comcast renewal proposal coming up on his city council. But Smyth says his city is facing similar differences with Comcast in their franchise talks.

Story source: AP