by Steven Hale
After three years of negotiation, Metro officials have agreed with cable giant Comcast on the terms of a new franchise agreement.
You may remember the hubbub a while back, when negotiations between the two sides bubbled over with public statements about growing cable bills and excessive demands.
Nearly two years later, the two sides have a deal.
First, a reminder of what we're talking about: In exchange for using public property — poles, fiber optic lines, etc. — to beam Splash into your living room (and make large profits in the process), cable companies sign franchise agreements with cities in which they operate. Those agreements include payment for use of public rights of way, and contributions to public access channels, among other things.
Under the terms of Metro's pending 10-year agreement with Comcast, the cable provider will continue to pay five percent of its gross revenue to Metro's General Fund. For the 2013 fiscal year, according to Metro officials, that came out to approximately $8.5 million.
Nashville's PEG (Public, Educational, Government) channels would see a boost in funding, but with a new stipulation. Comcast will continue contributing to these channels — MCAtv9 (arts), iQtv10 (education) and Access Nashville 19 — as well as Metro 3 (where you can catch Metro government meetings). The funds, however, may only be used for capital purposes like equipment upgrades, not for operating costs such as staff.
Comcast will chip in $300,000 in the first year of the deal, and $200,000 per year after that. Under the previous agreement, Comcast contributed $100,000 annually in PEG support.
At last week's budget hearing, Metro IT director Keith Durbin told Mayor Karl Dean that the new agreement would allow for the first capital improvement at the stations in 10 years. Kim Hayes, executive director of Nashville Education, Community and Arts Television (NECAT) — the nonprofit organization that runs the PEG channels, so that the government isn't making programming and scheduling decisions — concurs, but notes that the capital-only stipulation means things will still be tight at the stations, which have existed on the backs of a skeleton crew for years.
“That’s great because we’ll have new equipment, which we are in desperate need of," Hayes tells Pith. "Not great because we have to totally fundraise to support a staff, on the NECAT side.”
Going into the next fiscal year, NECAT will be out of operational funding. Metro funds some technical staff at the stations, who work for Metro's IT department, but the rest of the staff depends on community support.
“It’s a critical year, next year, for the community and the board to support it, or not,” Hayes says.
The franchise agreement will be up for a public hearing tomorrow night when it makes its second of three appearances before the Metro Council. A full analysis of the deal, prepared by council attorney Jon Cooper, can be read here. Pith will update with any comment from Comcast.
Update: Sara Jo Houghland, director of Government Affairs and Public Relations at Comcast, sends along this statement, in an email.
"We have worked closely with Metro Nashville Government to establish a new 10 year franchise agreement, which is now up for the review at Metro Council. We greatly value our relationship with the Metro Nashville community and look forward to extending this partnership."