Cable prices could rise soon

May 25, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

The price for Comcast service could rise for some Issaquah cable customers in the months ahead, though the amount will remain undetermined until the city and the cable provider finalize a pact.

Officials should complete the agreement within several months, and end the long process to update the agreement between the city and the predominate cable provider in Issaquah.

Joe Forkner, a city Cable TV Commission member and a former Issaquah councilman, said Comcast had agreed not to immediately raise prices.

“They have agreed that they are not just going to jack up the rates arbitrarily, but they’ll work them up slowly,” he said.

Members of the City Council Utilities, Technology & Environment Committee discussed the legislation May 11. The committee delayed possible action on the agreement until July.

The full council could approve the agreement at any time, but will likely not act without a recommendation from the committee.

Until the council OKs the latest agreement, Comcast must abide by the terms set in the former pact.

Comcast spokesman Walter Neary said he could not discuss details of the proposed agreement, because the negotiations continue to unfold, but he said he hoped the city and Comcast could a reach a beneficial agreement.

The agreement under consideration encompasses the entire section of Issaquah served by Comcast, including South Cove and Greenwood Point.

Residents in the southwestern Issaquah neighborhoods — long handled by a separate company operating under the Comcast brand — paid higher prices for cable services after Issaquah annexed in 2006.

The arrangement generated a class-action lawsuit from then-South Cove resident Jeff Parsons and other residents in 2007. The residents lost the case, appealed, lost the appeal and then dropped the case. Parsons has since relocated to Seattle.

Though the case has faded, the feelings associated with the circumstances leading to the lawsuit linger.

Councilman Joshua Schaer — a Utilities, Technology & Environment Committee member — used sharp language to describe the negotiations between the city and the cable giant.

“We don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot and say we’re going to take you to court and end up costing the city a lot more money in the long run, but by the same token, I think we have a duty as a City Council to protect our citizens from having to pay money to this hostage taker,” he said.

Issaquah handles the negotiation process through a citizen Cable TV Commission. Most municipalities assign the negotiations to staffers.

The agreement between the city and Comcast expired in June 2008. Since then, the Cable TV Commission has rewritten city code to prepare for the latest agreement. Commissioners also negotiated with Comcast to renew the agreement.

The pact considered by the Utilities, Technology & Environment Committee met the requirements set in updated city code, as well as state and federal rules.

Forkner and Council President John Traeger — another Utilities, Technology & Environment Committee member — noted how the sweeping Telecommunications Act of 1996 altered the way state and local governments can regulate Comcast and other cable providers.

“The cable company of 10 or 15 years ago is very different from the cable company of today,” Neary added.

The city also took a tentative step to encourage another cable provider to install lines to Issaquah residences already served by Comcast in a process known as overbuilding.

The agreement between the city and cable provider Broadstripe called for the company to expand beyond condominiums in the Issaquah Highlands and Providence Point. But officials said the company seems unlikely to meet the goal. Forkner said no other companies had expressed interest in overbuilding.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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