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Informal cable franchise negotiations showing promise
Most of the cities that make up the North Suburban Cable Commission - eight out of 10, to be exact - have spoken on the question of whether or not to preliminarily accept Comcast’s formal cable franchise proposal and, in line with a commission recommendation made in May, all eight have voted to deny it.
The denial, which will put the franchise process before an administrative law judge, is beginning to appear less dramatic as behind the scenes informal negotiations have begun to be fruitful.
“I think it’s just going to take some time,” said Cor Wilson, executive director of CTV, which is a part of the North Suburban Access Corporation and NSCC. “We’re getting close enough that we are going to resolve this informally.”
Wilson said that two of the three major issues are nearly resolved, though the toughest sticking point in the negotiations - public, education and government access fees, which Comcast charges its customers and then passes onto NSAC - are still a point of contention. However, the two sides are coming closer together; the NSCC is lowering its asking price, and Comcast raising what it will agree to charge.
Further aiding the negotiations, according to Wilson, is Comcast’s planned divestment from the Twin Cities cable market, a move spurred on by Comcast’s proposed merger with Time Warner Cable. The divestment is seen as crucial to Federal Communications Commission approval of the merger, aimed at lowering the company’s U.S. cable market share.
A newly formed cable company, Midwest Cable, as mentioned by NSCC lawyer Mike Bradley at a June 11 Little Canada city council meeting, would be taking over the Twin Cities market of 2.5 million Comcast cable customers.
Wilson said franchise transfer paperwork should arrive at NSCC and to other franchisees by the end of the month, and that it would likely behoove Comcast to have a new franchise agreement in place in order to transfer said franchise.
NSCC member cities have until June 20 to vote on the franchise proposal; Arden Hills, Falcon Heights, Lauderdale, Little Canada, Mounds View, New Brighton, North Oaks and St. Anthony have all preliminarily denied it.
Roseville and Shoreview will vote on the matter June 16 and will most likely vote against it as well, as approval would effectively end their city’s roll in ongoing negotiations.
St. Anthony Mayor Jerry Faust previously recused himself from Comcast franchise discussions at the city’s May 27 city council meeting because he owned stock in the company. But at a June 10 meeting, Faust announced he had divested from Comcast, “simply because this is too important for me to be on the sidelines.”
Comcast’s formal cable franchise proposal was issued in accordance with federal law; any other negotiations are considered informal.
Mike Munzenrider can be reached at email@example.com or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.