City seeks input on cable television services

The Bellingham Business Journal

Are you satisfied with your cable television services from Comcast? Are you able to reach Comcast customer service when you need help?

Bellingham’s franchise agreement with Comcast Cable will expire soon, and the city wants public input on local cable services and what should be included in a renewed agreement with Comcast.

“Comcast provides important cable and communications services in Bellingham. The company makes services widely and easily available in Bellingham and maintains a local customer service office, which is important to our residents,” said Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike.

Comcast – the nation’s largest cable television provider – is currently the only source of residential cable television service that uses public rights of way in Bellingham. Comcast currently provides cable television service to an estimated 27,000 subscribers within the Bellingham city limits.

“At the same time, Comcast profits from using Bellingham’s public rights of way to deliver their services,” Pike said. “So we want to make sure that, in exchange for the use of the public’s property, the cable franchise agreement addresses the needs and interests of the city and its residents.”

The city has an agreement with Comcast because cable companies “rent” space on public property for their transmission lines. In exchange for the use of public property, federal law allows local governments to collect a fee from the company and to regulate limited aspects of cable service. A process outlined in federal law is used to establish cable franchise agreements, and community input about cable service is an important step in that process.

Feedback from residents at meetings scheduled for May 25 and 26 will help city officials determine the cable-related needs and interests of residents, organizations and businesses in Bellingham.

At the meetings, presenters will provide an overview of the franchise renewal process, and what Comcast services can and cannot be regulated locally. Participants will then have an opportunity to weigh in on cable services, including experiences with cable installation, reaching Comcast on the telephone, preferences for additional public services in our community, and more.

Bellingham residents can also take part in an informal website survey that asks about Comcast services. The survey, posted on the city website, will accept responses until close of business June 4, 2010.

Once a community-needs assessment is complete, city officials will negotiate a new agreement with Comcast. Negotiations will be conducted throughout 2010, with a new agreement expected to be considered by the Bellingham City Council in early 2011.

Federal law allows the city to seek certain cable-related community benefits, such as quality customer service support to subscribers and channels and other support for community television. Federal law limits the city’s authority to regulate other aspects of cable service, such as most rates, specific channels of programming and the provision of non-cable services such as Internet and telephone service.

For more information, visit the city’s website at www.cob.org/issues/franchise.aspx.

Comcast cable franchise agreement public input meeting schedule:

  • 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 25 in City Council Chambers, Bellingham City Hall
  • 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday May 26 in City Council Chambers, Bellingham City Hall
  • Both meetings will be filmed and aired on BTV10
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