County signs new deal with Comcast

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Agreement would add roughly $32,000 to general fund from franchise fees

By Kirsten Laskey

Los Alamos County councilors shook the dust off a 16-year-old franchise agreement with cable provider Comcast and approved a renewal Tuesday.

The renewal grants Comcast the right to use the county’s easements and right-of-ways for its “plain vanilla” cable for 10 years, said Nann Winter of the Albuquerque law firm retained by the council to work on the renewal.

The agreement sets a franchise fee of 5 percent of Comcast’s gross revenue; which was increased from the 3 percent established in the expired agreement.

Estimating there are 2,700 subscribers with an average monthly bill of $50, an additional $32,000 would flow into the general fund from Comcast franchise fees.

The renewal sets standards for FCC testing, Emergency Alert Systems and parental controls.

The county is also permitted to audit Comcast performance and is granted, along with the public schools, complimentary cable and Internet service.

These two entities are not the only ones to be impacted by the renewal.

In the renewal, capital support, which includes a one-time $50,000 grant, will be given to a public, education and government channel. The local PEG channel is PAC 8.

“We are very pleased to see this level of programming (benefit) from getting a franchise agreement approved,” said Dave Schiferl, president of the PAC 8 board.

Council vice chair Sharon Stover asked if PAC 8 has a wish list for things to purchase with the grant.

Schiferl said new equipment makes up most of the list.

“The money does go through the county so it would be great to receive it in one lump sum because we have a huge need for some new equipment,” said Jean Gindreau, executive director of PAC 8.

Besides the one-time grant, a per subscriber fee of 11 cents will be given monthly for PEG capital support.

The amount would increase to 13 cents in the sixth through 10th year of the agreement.

Not everyone believed the agreement was beneficial.

Councilor Robert Gibson asked Mark Beaubien, Comcast senior operations manager for New Mexico, why the number of Comcast subscribers has decreased.

Beaubien said more competitors were a reason. He said there was one satellite, now there are two.

However, Beaubien said Comcast is making improvements such as offering more channels in high definition and greater bandwidth.

Gibson was the sole opposition to the renewal.

Although Gibson said he supports PAC 8, he believed the only one to benefit from the renewal was Comcast and a broad communication plan should be created before this ordinance was addressed.

Although it was not unanimously passed, several councilors seemed glad the dust had been cleared off of the agreement. Councilor Ralph Phelps said he was happy to see this business finally completed.