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Sanford and Springvale residents will soon have a second option for cable television service, if all goes as planned. At the City Council meeting on May 5, a public hearing was opened on the pending negotiation of a franchise agreement with Comcast.

Attorney Ben Plante of Drummond Woodsum has been working with the City on the negotiations, and he gave a summary of the major components that have been agreed on so far.

  • Comcast is offering a ten-year cable franchise agreement to commence on the date the City Council votes to approve it. It may be renewed after the ten years are up.
  • Comcast is proposing to build out its infrastructure and network across the entirety of Sanford/Springvale, including most, if not all, of the populated area. Once this is built, Comcast will extend its cable system to newly developed areas that meet a specified density. They are also proposing a generous funding match to build out to any prospective subscribers who are more than 300’ away from the cable infrastructure.
  • Programming will be the usual categories, including entertainment, news, sports, public affairs, children’s programming, foreign language and local programming. Comcast has agreed to use all commercially reasonable efforts to maintain French language channels in its offerings.
  • Two PEG (Public, Educational and Government access) channels will be provided for the City to broadcast meetings and community events. These will be initially provided in standard digital format, but the City will have the option to transmit in high definition in the future. Additionally, Comcast will provide a grant of $120,000 to the City, to be given in installments of $12,000 per year to use toward PEG equipment and facilities.
  • Federal law permits municipalities to collect a franchise fee from cable companies, and Comcast is proposing a fee of 5% of their gross annual revenue derived from Sanford operations. This is the maximum fee allowed under federal law.
  • Comcast will operate a 24/7 call center for subscribers who have issues, complaints or questions. There will be an online contact option as well.

Tim Kelly, President of Government and Regulatory Affairs for Comcast, was on the Zoom call as well. He praised the professionalism of City Manager Steven Buck and Attorney Plante, and spoke a bit about the company. Comcast has 310 franchises in the Boston region, including 15 in Maine. He couldn’t answer questions from City Councilors about the price of the cable service, and the exact limits of the proposed infrastructure. He deflected a question from Councilor John Tuttle about whether Comcast will have an office downtown. He said the wiring on the poles will be HFC (hybrid fiber-coaxial) with “a mostly fiber backbone” on the main streets. Coaxial cable will run from the poles to the houses.

Shawn Guillemette, a resident of Springvale with industry experience, had some technical questions which Mr. Kelly answered to his satisfaction.

Mr. Buck concluded the presentation by saying that competition for cable subscribers between Comcast and Atlantic Broadband will be favorable for the City. He said the negotiators have spent a lot of time discussing the PEG channels, and are very aware of the importance of them to the City’s ability to do hybrid meetings post-pandemic. He expects the negotiations to be concluded in time for the City Council to vote on the franchise agreement at its May 18 meeting. The public hearing was left open, so that more comments from the public may be received.

The draft of the cable franchise agreement may be viewed as part of the Council’s meeting packet here, beginning on page 59.

The entire City Council meeting video may be viewed here.

Image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay

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