Cable Committee agrees on franchise agreement

By Megan Harrell

Star Staff

The Carter County Cable Committee unanimously agreed on a 10-year franchise agreement with ComCast Cable Communications Inc. during Tuesday night's public hearing. Ten commissioners were present to discuss the changes made to the renewed contract last negotiated in 1991.
   Russell Byrd, Area Manager of Government Affairs for ComCast, went over the franchise agreement with committee members and highlighted some of the changes that were agreed on by the Cable Committee and ComCast in January 2002. Byrd set aside ComCast's model franchise contract using Carter County's format to allow for more consistency among all county contracts. The revised contract provided a number of clarifications and updates on definitions. "It lays out a proper course of action for both sides," Byrd said. "All in all this contract is a stronger document for the county."
   Although most of the changes made to the contract were for clarification purposes and compliance with Federal law, some changes such as the number of homes per mile requirement reduction to 20 from 30 homes should provide better service to ComCast customers. Other changes in the contract include payment of the five percent franchise fee to the county quarterly instead of annually, and the elimination of ComCast's requirement to receive county approval for internal financial transactions.
   Two members of the public voiced concern about the length of the contract. They noted that 10 years is a long time for a contract in a field that is constantly changing. County Attorney George Dugger addressed concerns on the length of the contract by looking at past experience. "We had the same point made 10 years ago and you cannot operate a cable system unless you can borrow money, and you cannot borrow money unless you have a long franchise," Dugger said.
   The Cable Committee will recommend the revised contract with ComCast to all the commissioners during the County Commission's meeting September 9. ComCast and Charter Communications account for 90 percent of the cable customers in this region. ComCast has 2,408 customers in Carter County and only 13 in the city of Elizabethton.