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Nashville's NECAT gets a subscriber-funded boost from Comcast — with strings attached

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Comcast subscribers, be advised: You will likely see a slight increase in your cable bill in the coming months. No, there is not a new food channel.

After three years of negotiations, Metro officials and the cable giant have agreed on the terms of a new 10-year franchise agreement. As part of that deal, Comcast will double its contribution to local public, educational, government (PEG) channels. As one might expect, they will pass that math down to subscribers, meaning the 5-cent PEG support fee that shows up in your cable bill now will go up to roughly 10 cents, according to Comcast officials.

The 5-cent increase for subscribers means a boost in funding for Nashville's public access channels: MCAtv9 (arts), iQtv10 (education), Access Nashville 19 and Metro 3, which broadcasts Metro government meetings. Comcast previously contributed $100,000 annually in PEG support, but under the new deal, they would contribute $300,000 in the first year, and $200,000 per year after that.

The agreement stipulates, however, that the funds may only be used for capital purposes, meaning Nashville Education, Community and Arts Television — the nonprofit organization that runs channels 9, 10 and 19 — will only be able to make long-needed equipment upgrades. To hire and support much-needed staff, NECAT will have to rely on fundraising.

"It's a critical year, next year, for the community and the board to support it, or not," NECAT executive director Kim Hayes told the Scene last week.

Under the new agreement, which would take effect after the current deal expires on May 5, Comcast will continue to pay Metro 5 percent of its gross revenue, which according to Metro officials comes out to $8.5 million for the 2013 fiscal year. Comcast would also make a one-time payment of $800,000 to settle a dispute between the two parties over the results of an audit.

The Metro Council unanimously approved the agreement on second reading last week. It will be up for a third and final vote at the council's April 16 meeting.


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