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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Comcast, city reach initial agreement

Spokane city officials have reached a preliminary agreement with Comcast Corp. over details of a new 12-year franchise for the cable company’s operations.

Much of the agreement revolves around operation of eight television channels used for public access, local government and educational programming.

A franchise agreement between the city and cable operator cannot be used to regulate rates or channel lineups under federal law.

Kenneth Watts, general manger of Comcast in Spokane, said he was pleased with the outcome of what he described as “aggressive, but fair negotiations.”

A formal franchise agreement will now be written and should be ready for public hearings before the City Council in mid-August or September. Several public hearings will be held before the council takes a vote, said Marlene Feist, city spokeswoman.

City Council members Monday approved a resolution extending the current franchise until the new one could be adopted.

Comcast has about 98,000 subscribers in Spokane County.

While the franchise is being negotiated with the city, it would affect subscribers outside the city because it becomes the guide for operation of public channels.

Comcast had resisted attempts by the city to recover costs for negotiating a new franchise agreement, including the cost of the city hiring an outside expert to research and hone the city’s positions on cable issues.

To break the impasse, Comcast has agreed to pay the city $170,000 as a way to settle the issue without acknowledging that it is obliged to pay those costs.

Comcast also resisted a request by city officials to preserve channel 5 for city government use. Watts said in an interview that he has given oral assurances to the city that the company intends to maintain channel 5 for city use, but the company could not make a franchise agreement that would limit its right to control channel lineup.

Public broadcast facilities would get $4 million worth of improvements over the life of the franchise, including $400,000 immediately, through a 19-cent increase in cable fees.

Currently, subscribers pay 31 cents a month for public channel facilities. That charge would go to 50 cents.

“There is a fairly significant need to update that equipment,” Watts said.

Comcast no longer would provide studio facilities for public access programs at the start of the second year of the franchise agreement. Changes in federal law no longer require cable companies to provide operations for public access, and the franchise agreement would provide a year to make a transition to a new facility.

Feist said the city will work with citizens and other agencies in the county to come up with a new location for public access programming.

The franchise would call for building new sites for live programming at three city community centers, the city-owned fire training center, police academy and a possible stand-alone community production facility.

Comcast also has agreed to provide free high-speed Internet connections at 20 locations for public use, including libraries and community centers. High-speed business Internet connections will also be made available to the city.

In other business, the council approved on a 6-0 vote a resolution brought by Councilwoman Mary Verner that calls on the city to strive in good faith to meet federal water quality standards in the Spokane River.

The city currently is in negotiations with state officials and other agencies on limits for phosphorus emissions from the city-operated sewer plant into the river.

The new limits are expected to be costly to meet, and could force the city to remove its effluent from the river.

“The river is at the heart of our city,” Verner said.

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