Peace Declared in Marin

5/19/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

Comcast Corp. has ended six years of negotiations for a franchise for Marin County, Calif. The talks, which were started by the company's predecessors and marked by a noisy protest at the 2005 National Show in San Francisco, resulted in a 10-year operating agreement with the county.

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

One of the hot issues was an old technology. The topography in parts of Marin, east of San Francisco, prevents some communities from receiving broadcast signals from the city. When Comcast substituted digital music in place of FM radio transmissions, protesters joined union supporters in the demonstration outside the opening general session at the 2005 National Show.

The agency approved the refranchise May 17 on a 7-0 vote. The contract does not demand the continuation of FM broadcasts. But Comcast has vowed to continue the service as long as the market supports it, according to Comcast 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. The network will link libraries, schools and government buildings. Comcast will pay $3 million for a regional media center supporting six public channels.

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