Qwest Eyes Portland Franchise


Qwest Communications could get a video franchise for Portland, Ore. by as early as Nov. 14.

The Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission, which handles video franchising for the city and surrounding areas, voted 5-0 on Sept. 17 to recommend the franchise to the Portland City Council for its approval. A first reading on the franchise should take place on Oct. 10.

The franchise approved by the commission would award Qwest a six-year franchise. The telco could earn a two-year franchise extension if it reaches at least 20% of the city’s dwellings in the first three years of the franchise, and another three-year extension if it reaches 30% of the community during the original franchise term.

The franchise, which has been in negotiations for more than a year, attracted the opposition of the Oregon Cable Telecommunications Association and Comcast, Portland’s incumbent operator.

The opponents have argued that the pact proposed for Qwest is not substantially the same as the operating rules for Comcast. For instance, there is no build-out provision applied to Qwest, opening the door to possible red-lining of poorer neighborhoods, according to opponents.

In a staff report for the commission, officials said the terms of the franchise are as aggressive as possible given the current legal environment. A “mirror image” agreement of the one applied to Comcast would mean one thing: no competition in video services, the report said. The proposed pact is “reasonably commensurate” with the operating terms applied to Comcast, the report said. 

David Olson, director of the commission as well as of the office of cable communications and franchise management for the city of Portland, said Qwest presented a map to commissioners detailing areas where it has upgraded its facilities with fiber to provide digital-subscriber line services and, eventually, video services. The neighborhoods on the map “cover the economic spectrum,” including “marginal” economic areas. That gave commissioners comfort that Qwest will not engage in red-lining, Olson said.

Qwest already has cable operations in the Phoenix area and in a few small communities in Colorado.