Comcast Cable Agreement
Thurston County and the cities of Lacey, Olympia, and Tumwater are collaborating to negotiate renewal of the franchise agreement with Comcast.
According to state and federal laws, County and city officials can negotiate specific issues in the agreement, including programming categories; Public access, Education and Government (PEG) channels; customer service standards; and franchise fees, among other issues.
Unfortunately, these limitations prevent the cities and County from addressing some concerns about Comcast service including rates, internet and phone service, channel placement, and à la carte options.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a cable franchise?
Does the cable franchise regulate all of the services provided by Comcast?
A cable franchise is a legal agreement between a local government (such as Thurston County, and the Cities of Lacey, Olympia, and Tumwater) and a cable company (Comcast) to authorize the use of the public right-of-way for its cable system, and the consideration paid by the cable company for that authorization.
What is a franchise fee?
No. Federal and state law limit a local government’s authority to regulate the operations of facilities in the public right-of-way that provide voice service and internet service. A cable franchise only addresses the cable or video component of Comcast’s service offerings.
Where does the money received from Comcast go?
Comcast pays a franchise fee to Thurston County and the Cities of Lacey, Olympia, and Tumwater for the use of public property. While there can be some degree of negotiation related to the franchise fee, federal law caps the maximum amount at 5% of Comcast’s gross revenues from and related to the provision of cable and video services.
Who regulates cable companies?
All revenue is deposited into the jurisdictions general funds for operations. Some of the funds are paid to TCMedia for operation of local Public, Educational, and Government (PEG) access channels.
What can local governments negotiate?
Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has very limited regulatory oversight over cable companies. The FCC adopts technical standards that cable systems must meet. Local governments regulate cable companies through their cable franchises and customer service standards, but only within the framework of what federal law allows to be addressed in a local cable franchise.
What can't local governments negotiate?
During the cable franchise renewal process, the cable operator’s past performance is reviewed in connection with its provision of cable services to consumers and the future cable-related needs and interests of the community. Local governments can require:
- General categories of programming be made available (but not individual channels)
- The amount of the franchise fee (up to the federal limits)
- How access to and work in the rights-of-way will be made
- Customer service standards related to the provision of cable (video) services
- Provisions to address damage that may be caused by the cable operator’s operations
- The provision of channel capacity for public, educational, and government access programming, along with capital support for those channels
As part of the negotiation, an audit will be conducted to ensure cable company compliance with its financial obligations, as well as ensuring compliance with federal technical standards for the cable system, when and under what conditions the cable operator must extend its cable system to serve new developments, and other provisions related to franchise violations and franchise transfers.
So what is in it for the consumers?
As noted, the franchise only covers the cable or video part of the Comcast operations. Local governments cannot:
- Address anything related to internet or voice service
- Impose any requirements for specific video programming channels
- Regulate how Comcast determines the structure of its tiers of service
- How much Comcast charges for cable programming services
- Local governments also cannot influence the Channel TV Guide operations and publications. Channel TV Guide operation and publication is a separate contract between a vendor and Comcast.
Franchise negotiations allow local governments to:
- Look at Comcast’s financial records, operations, and its record of customer service in our community in connection with the provision of cable (video) services.
- Require specific capacity and functionality of the cable system, unless preempted by FCC authority.
- Facilitate local programming of interest to the community by making access channels for Public, Education, and Government (PEG) programs.
- Regulate how cable companies use public rights-of-way, and provide protection to the public from that use.