Vail negotiating with Comcast
July 30, 2010
VAIL, Colorado – The town of Vail has begun negotiating with Comcast again over the cable company’s franchise agreement with the town.
Comcast’s 15-year franchise agreement with the town of Vail expired last December, and Town Attorney Matt Mire is working on a new deal with Comcast and expects to have something ready to present to the Town Council within a couple of months, he said. The Town Council would have to approve a new agreement by voting on an ordinance, Mire said.
The franchise is an agreement that allows Comcast the right to use town of Vail public rights of way for its equipment and infrastructure. The agreement is not exclusive, meaning other cable providers can still bid on the infrastructure, although those providers would have to strike a deal with Comcast in order to buy its local cable plant, said Don Braden, Vail’s information technology director.
“It’s the law of economics,” Braden said. “How much would (cable providers) have to pay for that plant versus the number of subscribers they’d have here?”
Some Vail residents think the negotiations should be a more public process, citing complaints about Comcast’s service in the community over the years and a desire for a better deal.
The non-competitive nature of the local cable market, however, doesn’t put the town of Vail in a “position of relative bargaining strength,” Mire said.
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Janet Rinaldi, Comcast’s director of government affairs, said a franchise deal strictly relates to the use of town rights of way and has nothing to do with the services and technology the cable company provides.
“It sets forth the contractual relationships for maintaining the rights of way or other issues mainly affecting the health, safety and welfare of (town of Vail) citizens,” Rinaldi said.
Braden said the deal is a way for the town to ensure its citizens are being served from a technology standpoint, however.
“The number one priority behind the franchise agreement is that we’re getting the latest technology and the residents are getting good service,” Braden said.
The deal is expected to include things like franchise fees and capital improvement fees, paid to the town by Comcast, that would go toward upgrading equipment and technology for Public Access TV 5, for example.
Fees paid by Comcast in a new agreement would help the town upgrade the delivery system for public access channels, meaning the town could eventually stream council meetings live.
“We’re looking to Comcast to make that equipment investment as part of the agreement,” Braden said. “We need to make sure we have the technology everyone else has.”
Currently, Comcast doesn’t provide its on-demand service to the Vail area, and high definition just became available in 2009 in this area.
“We had to put pressure on them for high definition,” Braden said. “They were definitely slow to bring high definition to the mountain community here – that’s the type of thing we need to stay on top of.”
Cindy Parsons, vice president of Comcast public relations, said that services are “phased,” not delayed, when reaching mountain communities.
“Comcast is certainly dedicated to bringing advanced services to the Vail community and all mountain communities,” Parsons said. “Any time an organization or company is investing to bring services to an area, we do it in a phased approach.”
Parsons said on-demand service and other upgrades should be available in Vail and the surrounding communities by the end of the year or early next year.
While the town of Vail’s information technology department has gotten complaints about cable service, Braden said the service problems aren’t always the responsibility of the cable provider. People splitting the cables in their homes, for example, affects the quality of service.
“It’s not all to bear on Comcast,” Braden said. “It’s tough. If you talk to any large provider, there’s always going to be complaints – that’s the nature of the beast.”
Braden and Mire are both optimistic about reaching a deal that benefits both sides.
“Comcast wants to present a good image and be a good partner, and they’re negotiating in good faith,” Braden said. “We’re giving them the opportunity to do the right thing.”
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.