Regional cable commission to hold public hearing on Comcast franchise renewal

The North Suburban Communications Commission is holding a public hearing on Comcast’s 10-year franchise renewal proposal in the Shoreview City Council chambers on Thursday, April 17.

Prior to opening up the floor to public comment, Comcast representatives will be giving a presentation on the cable company’s proposal for a franchise renewal, followed by an NSCC staff Q&A session on key issues from the proposal.

Comcast’s 15-year cable TV contract with the NSCC was due to expire at the end of last year, but has been extended through the end of 2014.

NSCC and CTV North Suburbs Executive Director Coralie Wilson said the meeting would be a good opportunity for cable subscribers to ask questions or raise concerns about customer service, rates and commitment to access programming.

Wilson said CTV community programming is currently funded by an annual operating grant from the cable company along with a $50,000 equipment grant. The operating grant for 2013 was just under $1.5 million.

CTV (local public access community television) is a non-profit organization operated by the North Suburban Access Corporation with 10 commission members representing each of the 10 member cities.

Its 10 commission members represent the cities of Arden Hills, Falcon Heights, Lauderdale, North Oaks, Little Canada, New Brighton, Mounds View, Roseville, Shoreview and St. Anthony Village. Additionally, the NSCC serves the Roseville, Mounds View and St. Anthony-New Brighton school districts.

The annual operating grant that NSAC/CTV receives is accrued from a monthly “PEG fee” (Public/Educational/Government) of $4.15 per cable subscriber. Wilson said Comcast is proposing to cut that fee to 42 cents per subscriber per month as well as eliminate the equipment grant. Comcast is also looking to take back several channels currently set aside for public, educational and government access programming. 

According to Comcast’s proposal, NSCC staff “has not demonstrated the need for a remarkably high eight channels devoted to PEG programming.” In the proposal, Comcast also contends that current media consumption trends indicate that most people would prefer to receive local news and other information that might appear on PEG channels through other means, including the internet and live streaming.

Wilson said CTV would be out of business if Comcast’s proposal is adopted and added that cable subscribers’ bills would not decrease even if PEG fees were trimmed down.

Statements from Comcast and public comments, along with staff and consultant reports, will all be considered by the commissioners prior to adopting a recommendation to the 10 member cities to either accept or deny Comcast’s formal franchise renewal proposal. That recommendation is scheduled to be adopted later this spring. Then, each member city will have to vote to approve or deny the commission’s recommendation at separate city council meetings. If the cities deny Comcast’s renewal proposal, the NSCC and Comcast would likely conduct an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge.

Shoreview City Hall is located at 4600 Victoria St. N. in Shoreview. The franchise renewal presentation begins at 6:30 p.m. and is open to the public.

Comcast’s formal franchise renewal proposal can be viewed on the CTV North Suburbs website at cvt15.org.

— Joshua Nielsen
 

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