This past week, the Chicago City Council extended negotiations with Comcast for three months past the original March 15, 2014 franchise expiration date. Comcast, Chicago’s largest cable company, has been negotiating with the City since last summer over a new 10-year franchise agreement.
The stakes are high for the public. CAN TV’s public mission is put at risk if Comcast is held to a lower standard than RCN, a local cable provider that secured a new franchise in 2012.
Aldermen immediately showed support for the public as they walked into Council chambers for the Committee on Finance hearing, putting on “CAN TV: Our Channels, Our Voices” buttons.
During the hearing, Aldermen questioned members of the City negotiating team, making clear their expectation for a Comcast renewal franchise that meets the standard the City Council recently approved for RCN, a much smaller company.
“Cable incumbents in other big cities have tried to defund certain public access channels,” said Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) at the Committee on Finance meeting. “We just want to make sure that doesn’t occur here in the city of Chicago.”
Alderman John Pope (10) said, “Myself and several of my colleagues have been staunch supporters of ensuring that there is a fair and legitimate agreement reached here that is equal, if at least not equal, greater than what’s already been achieved with RCN…We’d like to see this completed sooner rather than later.”
Vice Mayor Ray Suarez (31) asked, “What’s the biggest stumbling block?” He said a nice package from Comcast is expected. Alderman Rey Colon (35) echoed the need for parity with RCN and Alderman Ariel Reboyras (30) sought transparency as part of the process to fully advise the Council of the terms of any agreement before the Council is asked to vote.
Alderman Reilly summed up his comments by saying, “All of us are receiving input from our constituents about public access channels. They’re very popular and also they’re a real resource for nonprofit groups and advocacy organizations. So, certainly I hope that the administration can hold the line and make sure that we don’t see any backsliding when it comes to preserving those channels.”
Jeffrey Levine of the City’s law department confirmed that holding Comcast to at least the same level of benefits in the RCN agreement is the City’s goal. But to date, Comcast has not agreed to meet that standard.
“I think that the tone of the council is that we take very seriously these negotiations,” said Ald. Arena(45 th). “CAN TV is a valuable resource to our constituents, and we hope you take that into the negotiating table.”