Policy

Peace Declared in Marin County

5/19/2006 8:05 AM Eastern

Comcast Corp. ended six years of negotiations for a franchise for Marin County, Calif. -- talks that were begun by cable predecessors and marked by one very noisy protest at the National Show in San Francisco in 2005.

The talks finally resulted in a 10-year operating agreement with the county.

The talks began between the Marin Telecommunications Agency -- representing Fairfax, Larkspur, Sausalito, San Rafael, Ross, Mill Valley and Marin County -- in 2000, with incumbent Tele-Communications Inc. AT&T Corp. bought TCI, then sold its AT&T Broadband cable operations to Comcast, now the dominant provider in the San Francisco Bay area.

One of the hot issues was an old technology. Parts of the Marin communities, across the Golden Gate Bridge east of San Francisco, are prevented by topography from receiving broadcast signals from the city. When Comcast substituted digital music in place of FM-radio transmissions, protestors joined union supporters in that demonstration outside the opening general session at the National Show.

The agency approved the refranchise May 17 by a 7-0 vote. The contract does not demand the continuation of FM broadcasts, as sought by fans. Comcast vowed to continue the service as long as the market supports it, according to regional vice president of communications Andrew Johnson.

Comcast agreed to pass through a fee of 60 cents per subscriber, per month to help support local initiatives such as an institutional network, with connections provided by the operator. It will link libraries, schools and government buildings.

The MSO will also pay $3 million for a regional media center supporting six public, educational and government channels.

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