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A franchise agreement is a contract between the City and a public or private utility or telecoms provider who needs access to the City’s rights of way (ROWs) to deliver its services. The City negotiates and executes franchise agreements, which grant the private company or other public agency the right to use the City’s ROW for the installation, maintenance, and repair of their facilities–typically underground pipes and conduits or above-ground cables and lights on poles. A franchise typically covers a wide range of topics, such as permitting procedures, notice requirements before digging in the ROW, insurance and indemnification, length of the franchise, and any applicable costs, fees, or tax arrangements.
Under the current franchise agreement, residents receive the following benefits:
Federal Law and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations prohibit the City from regulating rates in Bainbridge Island, except to the extent of ensuring they are non-discriminatory. Cable companies determine what they charge in various cities and regions of the country.
As part of the franchise negotiation process with Comcast, the City will review the existing customer service standards, the penalties for violating such standards, and Comcast’s performance with those standards. Importantly, feedback on Comcast’s performance will be solicited from residents. If the quality of cable service provided by Comcast has been inadequate, the City will pursue higher customer service standards and consider what other actions may be taken under federal law to improve the quality of cable services provided.
Federal Law and FCC regulations limit what the City can do to attract companies since the City must maintain parity between Comcast and potential other wireline cable television providers. For most companies, expanding onto Bainbridge Island would require major financial investment which could be financially unfeasible. There can be negative consequences to overbuilding, and as cord-cutting increases, those potential downsides also increase.
In accordance with Federal Law, the City drafts its cable franchise agreement to be non-exclusive. This means that other cable companies can choose to build out a cable system on Bainbridge Island, but building a cable network is expensive. Dish, and Direct TV are direct broadcast satellite providers and are available alternatives. Additionally, services such as Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix now provide alternatives to traditional cable service.
The current franchise agreement requires Comcast to obtain all required permits under the City Code before engaging in any tree trimming or pruning of trees in the City’s right of way that interferes with operation of its cable system.
Unfortunately, no. Federal Law and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations prohibit the City from regulating non-cable services provided by Comcast through its cable system, including Broadband Internet access service. Therefore, the franchise agreement does not address broadband internet and the City cannot, as a condition of franchise renewal, make requirements for Internet Service or Telecommunication Service part of a renewed Comcast Cable Franchise.