Seattle passes 10-year Comcast franchise

by ,

[from Reclaim the Media]

On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted 7-0 to approve a 10-year cable franchise agreement with Comcast. In the end, the Council went along with Energy Committee chair Jean Godden's strong desire to get the thing passed as rapidly as possible, without taking any time for the full council to consider additional amendments [something Council staffers had previously suggested would be possible].

While citizens and community groups didn't get everything we wanted out of this franchise deal, local media activists can feel good about what we did accomplish--we won a budget increase for community TV channel SCAN, instead of the major budget cut being pushed by the Mayor's office. We also won political support for SCAN to expand onto a second channel--something which will likely require more public pressure in months ahead to make a reality.

The playing field of cable negotiations is anything but level for local governments forced to sit across the negotiating table from a giant corporation like Comcast. The table is no less tilted against local community activists who want to make demands that their government negotiators fight hard to win public benefits in franchise negotiations. The community groups who engaged in the Seattle Comcast franchise issue over the last two years were up against the city's fear of winding up in a costly court fight with Comcast; the Mayor's office's desire to marginalize and defund community TV. Finally, all city officials were aware of pending federal legislation which appears likely to sweep away local cable franchising altogether (though, as local activist Ken Meyer repeatedly pointed out, this particular sword of Damocles has no danger of falling on Seattle any time in the immediate future).

Thanks go to everyone who wrote letters, called their councilmember or the Mayor's office, spoke at a City Council meeting or public hearing, talked to friends about the Comcast franchise, or supported the work of Reclaim the Media and the other local groups fighting for the public interest. Thanks also go to Real Change, the only local media outlet other than SCAN which has followed this story over the last several months.

Here's a quick analysis of the Seattle Comcast deal as approved:

Councilmembers Godden, Steinbrueck and Della rejected calls to delay passage of the franchise, allowing additional time for the consideration of amendments, citing the likelihood that Congress appears highly likely to pass legislation which preempts local franchising. (During Energy Committee discussion of the franchise, committee staff strongly suggested

The Council expressed support for SCAN, and raises franchise fee to 4.2%, increasing SCAN's annual budget to $700,000. [SCAN's budget is currently $650,000; the Mayor's proposal would have dropped the budget to $500,000]. Council also expresses support for the allocation of a second channel for SCAN, "conditioned on SCAN demonstrating satisfactorily to DoIT that it has developed and implemented a reasonable business plan, and has sufficient funding for operations to cover the costs associated with operating a second channel." Finally, the resolution makes requirements of SCAN to bolster its own fundraising.

The Arts Zone agreement passed without major alteration.

Godden rejected concerns about new arts programming encroaching on government accountability on the Seattle Channel as "micromanaging."

A Council memorandum establishes an advisory group drawing members from the Citizens' Telecommunications and Technology Advisory Board (CTTAB) and the Arts Commission to advise the Seattle Channel on its ArtsZone programming.

No requirement ensuring the Seattle Channel will attend to its core responsibility of providing government accountability programming.

No labor rights protections for Comcast's local employees.

No requirement for Comcast to add onscreen channel listings of SCAN and educational programming.

No discussion of altering substantive terms of the franchise, including the giveaway of extremely lucrative channel capacity.

Full texts:

Bill Number: 115494 [Franchise Renewal]

Bill Number: 115493 [Arts Zone]

Bill Number: 115492 [increases franchise fee and allocates funds to SCAN as noted above]

Resolution Number: 30867 [SCAN]

article originally published at .
The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey