Comcast franchise parleys unfinished

County, Vancouver may grant 6-month extension of deal

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

Published:

 

With the deadline for a new cable television franchise agreement with Comcast approaching, Clark County's cable commission is getting ready — for still another delay.

The commission, which will meet Wednesday, will recommend that the Vancouver City Council and the Clark County Board of Commissioners approve a six-month extension of Comcast's 15-year franchise agreement. The current agreement, which grants Comcast nonexclusive rights to provide cable service to residents of Vancouver and unincorporated Clark County, expires at the end of the month.

Jim Demmon, the city-county Cable TV manager, said the commission is awaiting a response to a proposed contract extension that's already been endorsed by the city council and county commission. Without an extension, Demmon said, there wouldn't be enough time to hold a final round of public hearings on the agreement. The extension would run until July of next year.

"We're kind of in a holding pattern waiting for Comcast corporate to give their final blessing on the overall franchise," said Jim Demmon, the city-county cable office's cable TV manager. The commission had hoped to complete negotiations as early as one year ago.

The commission submitted its proposal for a 10-year franchise extension to Comcast around the end of October, Demmon said, adding that he believes all major issues have been settled, Cable television officials in other jurisdictions have told him that delays in final negotiations are common, he said.

Theressa Davis, a Portland-area spokeswoman for Comcast, said the huge cable company is working to complete its negotiations with Vancouver and Clark County "as soon as possible."

"There are additional matters in this negotiation that are taking longer than anticipated," she said by email on Monday. Noting that the company opened a Vancouver customer service center this year, she added that "Comcast continues to invest in Vancouver and we look forward to our long-term partnership with both the city and the County with our renewed franchise in the coming year."

The commission's priority in negotiations has been to maintain the current franchise fee of 5 percent of gross revenues that is now paid by Comcast to local governments. That fee generated $1.8 million for the city and $1.6 million for Clark County last year. The money goes to those governments' general funds, but each jurisdiction con

tributes to a fund used to finance public, educational and government service programming, known as PEG channels.

Local officials also want to maintain the existing $1 per month residential subscriber fee for the PEG channels, with the ability to raise the fee after May 2014. They also want to maintain the current six PEG channels, with high-definition programming on those channels beginning next year. The cable commission has no legal authority to regulate cable television rates.

Comcast has more than 80,000 subscribers in its Clark County-Vancouver service area.