Champaign rejects 10-year cable deal with Comcast

Champaign rejects 10-year cable deal with Comcast

CHAMPAIGN – Anyone who has ever wanted to spout about their cable provider would be envious of Champaign City Council members, who got to complain publicly Tuesday night.

Council members voted 7-1 in denial of a proposed 10-year agreement that would have allowed Comcast to continue using public property for their cable infrastructure.

That means city staff will spend more time negotiating the contract, a process that has already taken 4 1/2 years, said Jeff Hamilton, the city's telecommunications technician. If city officials and Comcast representatives are unable to agree on the provisions, the two parties would plead their cases in front of a mediator.

The sticking point for some council members Tuesday was that the contract would have only required Comcast to provide their local customer service office in Urbana through 2014, instead of for the duration of the 10-year agreement.

Hamilton said that provision was one of the most difficult during the negotiations, as recent state legislation requires that cable providers only maintain an 800-service number.

"We certainly tried our best to get" a 10-year commitment for the local office, he said.

Council member Deborah Frank Feinen called the noncommitment a "dealbreaker" because of an experience she had with Comcast's 800-number.

"To say that my blood pressure rose is an understatement," Feinen said. "My husband said to me, 'Don't be mean, I will take it to our local office. Hang up the phone.'"

Before the council denied the agreement, Debra Piscola, Comcast's regional director of government affairs and franchising, told the council that the cable provider was excited to develop a partnership with the city.

"I can honestly say that we're not necessarily happy with the end result," Piscola said. But the city and Comcast wrote "a really good document."