Arlington County is in the process of negotiating with Comcast for a new long term franchise agreement, but they’ve run out of time. That’s why they’re requesting a one year extension, which will be examined at Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting.
Franchise agreements, which allow cable and video service providers to operate in a locality, typically are negotiated once every 10-15 years. Comcast took over an existing franchise agreement in 2000 and that expired in June of this year. In June, the County Board approved a six month temporary contract extension, which ends this month. Because both parties are still hashing out details of a long term agreement, they submitted the request currently before the Board for another temporary extension, to expire in December of 2014.
“The purpose of the extension is to give us time to negotiate the best deal we can with Comcast,” said the county’s Cable Administrator Rob Billingsley. “Rather than put the agreement in any kind of peril, the idea is that the Board passes, hopefully, that extension so we do have that time. All parties agree to do this, it’s not at all controversial.”
Both parties are required by law to keep the negotiations confidential. Billingsley did say, however, that the meetings have been successful and productive thus far.
“Because these agreements last as long as do, there’s some complexity to it,” Billingsley explained. “You’re not rushing it and you’re getting the best deal possible.”
The long term contracts allow Comcast to use the county’s “rights of way” such as streets and sidewalks. In exchange, Comcast provides free public education and government TV channels, in addition to grants and equipment for producing shows on those channels. The county also receives approximately five percent of Comcast’s gross revenue in Arlington, which is first routed through the state due to tax requirements and then heads back into the county’s general fund.
Part of the cable franchise renewal process involves examining Comcast’s past performance and determining future services to be included in the new agreement. There was a public meeting to discuss such desired services back in September of 2011.
County staff is recommending the County Board approve the temporary contract extension on Saturday.