Every 10-15 years, the ‘franchise agreement’ that gives one company a virtual monopoly over cable TV service in Arlington is put up for review. The current agreement with Comcast is expiring in 2013, and the county is asking for citizen input into whether it should renew the company’s franchise, and under what conditions.
Right now, if you exclude fiber optic TV provider Verizon FiOS, Comcast is Arlington’s sole cable provider. Under its current franchise agreement, Comcast provides a number of guarantees, including customer service standards, regular system testing and maintenance, and free internet service for Arlington Public Schools. It also makes annual contributions to support the television channels run by the county government, county schools and by public access organization Arlington Independent Media. (About one percent of your cable bill goes to support AIM.)
Arlington, a lucrative market for cable operators, must now decide what to ask for as part of another 10-15 year agreement with Comcast. As part of that process, the county will be holding a number of focus groups that will discuss ways to improve cable service and while providing additional community benefits.
The focus groups will involve specific interest groups with a stake in the outcome of the franchise negotiations. A total of eight focus groups — each open to the general public — are planned for the month of June. Among them:
- K-12 Schools, Teachers, Staff, Students, and Parents (June 16)
- Local Government Agencies and Departments (June 20)
- Emergency Services, Federal Agencies & Institutional Network (June 20)
- Non Profit, Health and Human Service Organizations, Civic Societies and Groups (June 21)
- Arts, Culture, Music and Heritage (June 21)
- Churches and Faith-Based Organizations (June 22)
- Neighborhood Organizations, County Board Commissions (June 22)
- Higher Education, Healthcare Institutions, and Businesses (June 23)
“These focus groups… provide a chance for interested community members to learn about the franchise renewal and to share opinions about future services that could be available to our community through the Comcast cable system,” the county said in a press release. “The process of granting a new franchise to Comcast deserves serious consideration and public input.”
See more information on the meetings on the county’s web site. The focus groups will be conducted by The Buske Group, a consulting firm that’s assisting the county during the franchise renewal process.