Cable TV franchise deal set for local votes

After months of discussion, delay, it heads to city, county

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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The City/County Telecommunications Commission, after many months of discussions and delay, has settled on a proposed 10-year franchise agreement with Comcast for cable television services in Vancouver and unincorporated Clark County.

The agreement, which would take effect July 1, now goes to the Vancouver City Council and the Clark County Commission for final approval. It calls for Comcast to continue its existing franchise fee payment of 5 percent of its gross revenues to Vancouver and Clark County. Some of that money goes to pay for general government services,

Comcast also has agreed to make service upgrades in the PEG (public, education, and government) channels that are provided to Comcast subscribers. The six existing PEG channels (three for TV ETC, two for CVTV, and one for FVTV) will remain intact. The franchise agreement makes provisions for two additional channels — one for public access and one for higher education. Comcast agrees to provide HD simulcast of three channels beginning in October, with the potential to expand that service to six channels.

Comcast will provide six hours of video-on-demand for the PEG programming after Oct. 1. The contract contains provisions that could allow that service to expand to a combined 24 hours of video on demand no earlier than July 2016.

Comcast subscribers would continue to pay a $1 monthly fee to help pay for capital equipment needed by PEG providers. But a new provision would allow the city and county, with local government approval, to replace that flat rate with a fee of 1.5 percent of gross revenue after January 2015. Cable television manager Jim Demmon said that change would lower costs for some customers with basic service and raise costs for those with premium service, and would generate more income for the PEG capital fund.

The proposed agreement also retains the current institutional network, called I-NET, to provide data, voice and video to public agencies. That service is used by the city of Vancouver, Clark County, the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District, and the NW Regional Training Center. Those subscribers would have the option of transitioning to Comcast Business Services.

Under federal law, local governments are prohibited from regulating rates charged by cable providers. While Comcast is the only franchised cable provider for Vancouver and unincorporated Clark County, its franchise is non-exclusive — meaning that another competitor could enter the market.

The City/County Telecommunications Commission will hold a public hearing at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Vancouver City Council Chambers, 415 W. 6th St. It will be broadcast live on CVTV Cable Channel 23. Its recommendations will go to the Vancouver City Council and Clark County Commission for final action.