Philadelphia Daily News June 5, 2015
IN RECENT WEEKS, Comcast’s four franchise renewals in Philadelphia have attracted a healthy share of public attention as well as a string of headlines. Understandably, an undertaking of such substance deserves careful and deliberate management to ensure a mutually beneficial outcome but, like many events of such high profile, publicity can blur the details.
A cable television franchise renewal offers a local franchising authority – the city of Philadelphia in this case – the opportunity to identify the cable-related needs of the community in exchange for the cable provider’s use of public rights of way in order to deliver services to its customers.
Franchise agreements are non-exclusive and strictly regulated by federal law, and franchising authorities are limited in what they can request of a cable television provider under the process. I underscore this point as city leaders offer opportunity for residents to provide input through a series of public forums. Throughout these meetings, groups and individuals will likely continue to weigh in about a range of issues that are important yet fall outside the federally prescribed parameters of the franchise-renewal process.
The operative term here is “cable television,” in that the renewal pertains solely to the delivery of cable television service in Philadelphia. It does not apply to Internet access, telecommunications policy, cable pricing or other unrelated issues. The Cable Communication Policy Act, passed by Congress, states that the parameters of the agreement must relate only to construction and maintenance of a cable television system, cable television services and other programming services including public, education and government access channels.
Hundreds of cable franchises in Pennsylvania are in a state of renewal annually, which results in robust benefits to meet communities’ current-day needs while allowing flexibility for the future. Simply put, the process can be lengthy but it works, and the commonwealth’s cable operators have reinvested significant capital and deployed a steady stream of new and innovative services to consumers. I am confident that the process in Philadelphia will yield a positive impact on the vitality of the community for many years to come.
Daniel Tunnell is the president of the Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania.