Civic News
Entertainment / Municipal government

Board of Estimates approves Comcast cable franchise

The TV-only agreement is good for another 10 years. It's not final just yet.

Brian Roberts (far left) sits on a panel about new media at The Cable Show.
Full disclosure: Comcast was the title sponsor of Philly Tech Week 2016, which was organized by

Baltimore’s public spending board approved a 10-year extension of the city’s cable franchise agreement with Comcast on Wednesday.
The Board of Estimates, which includes the mayor, comptroller and other city officials, approved the proposed agreement. The bill still has to be approved by City Council before it goes into effect.
The franchise agreement is specifically for Comcast, but does not give the company exclusive rights to operate cable TV in the city. Another company could come in, but hasn’t. Our explainer has more.
Under the agreement, the city estimates it will receive $114 million from Comcast over 10 years, according to the Mayor’s Office of Cable and Communications:

  • $70 million in 5 percent franchise fees, or annual gross revenue. It is the maximum allowable under federal law.
  • $30 million in conduit fees.
  • $14 million in public education and government fees from the six standard and three high-definition local access channels set out by the agreement. These include CharmTV.

Other provisions call for the company to provide a “Customer Bill of Rights,” video on-demand programming and quarterly check-ins about woman- and minority-owned business initiatives.
The city’s legal department recommended the approval based on its judgement that Comcast complied with the existing franchise, and that service has been “reasonable in light of community needs.”
Although Comcast offers both cable and internet service in Baltimore, the agreement only covers cable TV service. Mayor’s Office of Cable and Communications Executive Director Tonia Lee has repeatedly said it is bound by federal law.
During a Sept. 22 City Council committee hearing on the franchise, Comcast VP of Government and Regulatory Affairs Donna Rattley-Washington listed a number of contributions and community grants the company has made over the last year. These include a $400,000 grant to the city’s YouthWorks program, moves to extend its low cost Internet Essentials service to families with schoolchildren and community centers, as well as an agreement with HUD to open up the service in public housing. Apart from the hearing on Wednesday, Comcast announced it would speed up its Blast! service to 200 Mbps and Performance Pro to 100 Mbps in Northeast states including Maryland.
However, none of those provisions are part of the cable franchise agreement in Baltimore, since it does not cover internet service.
Last week, Comcast indicated it is opening a new office in McHenry Row.

Companies: City of Baltimore / Comcast

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