The renewal period for Seattle's cable franchise with Comcast has begun.
What is a Cable Franchise?
In order to provide their services, cable companies have to use the public rights-of-way (ROW) to install their cable equipment and facilities throughout the city. A cable franchise is the formal agreement between the City and a cable provider outlining the terms and conditions under which it can use the public ROW. The franchise imposes various obligations on the cable company including compensating the City for use of the ROW, protecting the rights and interests of Seattle residents and cable subscribers, and providing certain public benefits.
Comcast's Franchise with City of Seattle:
Comcast - the nation's largest cable television provider - is currently the primary source of cabletelevision services in Seattle, serving approximately 150,000 subscribers. They currently operate in Seattle under a franchise agreement effective since January 2006. The agreement allows Comcast to use the City's ROW in return for the payment of certain rental fees - known as franchise fees - and other benefits for Seattle and its residents.
Length of Cable Franchise Agreements
Franchise agreements in Seattle are adopted for terms of 10 years. Comcast's current franchise expires January 20, 2016.
How Renewal Works:
The franchise renewal process is governed by federal law (Section 626 of Cable Act, 47 CFR 546).
It occurs over the three (3) year period before a franchise expires. This period is designed to provide the City with sufficient time to:
- Evaluate the extent to which the cable operator has complied with its legal and franchise obligations during the term of the franchise;
- Determine the future cable-related needs and interests its residents (called "ascertainment"); and
- Negotiate with the cable provider on the conditions of any renewed franchise agreement, including cable-related benefits to help meet the needs identified during the ascertainment process.
What City Negotiators CAN do:
- Conduct an ascertainment process to determine community needs and interests. Under the existing franchise, for example, the City received potential use of up to 16 cable channels for the carriage of local, non commericla programming. It also secured free cable service to city buildings and schools.
- Identify circumstances where the cable operator has failed to live up to its obligations.
- Deny the renewal, but only after a lengthy, formal process to determine if the cable operator has failed to meet certain criteria.
- Hold Comcast accountable for certain customer-service aspects of cable-modem service under a "bill of rights" adopted by city ordinance. See Cable Customer Bill of Rights.
What City Negotiators CANNOT do:
- Control prices and what Comcast charges customers for cable modems or cable TV, with the limited exception of the price for the Limited Basic TV package.
- Control what commercial channels Comcast makes available, although the City can require certain categories of programming.
- Make demands about cable-modem (Internet) service because, technically, it's not part of the franchise.
We Want To Hear From You!
Your input is important! It helps inform our franchise negotiations and efforts to protect the rights and interests of Seattle residents and cable subscribers. Several methods will be used to collect community input during the renewal process:
- a telephone survey of Seattle residents;
- an on-line survey;
- community meetings; and
- focus groups.
Survey work is expected to begin in early 2014. If you get a call for the telephone survey, we hope you will take the time to participate!
You can contact us electronically using our on-line Complaint & Comments Form , or by calling the Cable Line at (206) 684-8498.
Current Comcast Franchise related documents
Renewal Law - 47 USC 546