Town Reviewing New Cable Agreement

BERLIN – Town officials are currently in the process of reviewing a proposed cable franchise agreement with Comcast.

Three years after the last agreement expired, the town is working out a new agreement with the cable provider. Town Administrator Laura Allen said the process had stalled as the town waited for Comcast to address the town’s concerns with the initial draft agreement.

“It took quite a bit of time for them to send a revision,” Allen said.

Comcast provided the town with a draft of a new agreement during the summer of 2014. In August of 2015, the town council authorized Allen to advise Comcast of the town’s concerns regarding the draft agreement proposed to replace the one that was set to expire in November of 2015. Allen said she identified seven issues with the proposal. It lowered the franchise fee, eliminated the PEG (public, educational, government access channel) and gave Comcast “rights not typically available under the law,” among other things. Because the town had concerns with the new document, Allen offered a two-year extension of the previous contract.

“They chose not to take that,” she said.

Instead, Comcast tweaked the new proposal. Allen said she didn’t get the revisions, however, until April of 2018.

Since then, town officials have been reviewing the proposed agreement. Allen said she was in the process of finding someone with the appropriate expertise to take a look at the document as well.

“It’s been challenging,” she said. “Comcast does this day in and day out. This is their business. They have a bank of attorneys and experts. We don’t do this very often. Maybe once every 10 or 15 years.  We’re looking for expertise to ensure we’re getting the best possible agreement.”

In a presentation to the council Monday night, Chris Comer, director of government affairs for Comcast, explained the non-exclusive franchise agreement gave Comcast the legal right to place cable in the town’s right of way. He said the company’s last agreement ran from November 2002 to November 2015.

Comer said it was important for the town and Comcast to sign a new agreement so that the company would have the legal right to be in the right-of-way.

He pointed out that the revised proposal was a 10-year agreement that included the option for the town to shorten the agreement to five years if desired. He said it also provided a 5 percent franchise fee that was the maximum permitted under federal law and was consistent with the current agreement. During the last fiscal year, that agreement generated $89,494 for the town.

Comer said the agreement proposed was virtually identical to agreements approved in recent years with a variety of other local towns, including Fenwick Island and Snow Hill.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.