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Competition for Comcast? New cable company could come to Spokane

Nov. 25, 2019 Updated Mon., Nov. 25, 2019 at 10:28 p.m.

TDS Telecom has filed a permit to offer cable services in Spokane in competition with Comcast. (Matt Rourke / AP)
TDS Telecom has filed a permit to offer cable services in Spokane in competition with Comcast. (Matt Rourke / AP)

Cable customers in Spokane could soon have an alternative to Comcast.

TDS Telecommunications, a Wisconsin-based cable and internet provider, is in negotiations with the city to enter the Spokane market.

If it the two parties can negotiate a franchise agreement, TDS would compete with Comcast, the city’s only cable provider. Although Comcast is currently the only game choice for cable subscribers, the city does not have an exclusive agreement with the company.

“Whenever you have choice, you potentially have cost savings for citizens,” said Marlene Feist, a spokeswoman for the city.

The company has signaled to the city that it wants to build an all-fiber cable service – meaning it would lay high-speed fiber connections directly to the doors of homes and businesses – that would offer Spokane homes at least 120 channels.

TDS Telecom is a subsidiary of Telephone and Data Systems, Inc., a Chicago-based company that also owns U.S. Cellular, a cellular service provider. TDS Telecom provides internet, television, and phone service to nearly 900 communities across the country, according to its website.

But before it lands in Spokane, TDS would have to make its way through a two-part approval process.

On Monday, the Public Infrastructure, Environment, and Sustainability Committee reviewed a proposed resolution that would affirm that TDS has the financial resources and technical know-how to operate in Spokane.

“In many cases…they came in and served as the competitor in a market, so they were the new entrant to the market. That’s a unique position to come in and be able to manage that,” Feist said.

If the council does pass such the resolution – which is expected to be on its Dec. 9 docket – the administration would bring forward a franchise agreement for approval.

In a briefing filed with the committee, city officials laid out the terms of a draft franchise agreement with TDS. The agreement would mostly match the terms under which Comcast operates, setting them on even footing to compete for customers in Spokane.

Comcast’s franchise in Spokane expired in 2017, but has been extended as it negotiates a new agreement with the city.

Under the 10-year deal, TDS would pay a 5% tax on its gross revenue, known as a franchise fee, and a 6% utility tax. It would be required to maintain six public access channels, including the city’s CityCable5 channel.

If the franchise is approved by City Council, which will likely happen in early February, the city will negotiate a construction start date with TDS. Within five years, TDS would be expected to make its service available to at least 70% of homes in Spokane.

The franchise only covers cable television service, but the city expects TDS to offer internet service, as well.

The company’s interest in Spokane spawned from the efforts of the Fiber Broadband Access Work Group, chaired by Councilman Breean Beggs with a goal to encourage the development and availability of improved internet service in Spokane.

Beggs noted on Monday that the infrastructure investment planned by TDS totals some $110 million.

“It’s a pretty significant economic stimulus,” Beggs said.

TDS is already operating in the Pacific Northwest. The company has made inroads in Coeur D’Alene, where it has already begun hiring as it plans to bring its fiber service there, the Coeur D’Alene Press reported earlier this year.

TDS has paid the city of Spokane a $10,000 application fee.

A spokesman for TDS could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday.

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