Urbana council delays decision on Comcast franchise deal

Urbana council delays decision on Comcast franchise deal

URBANA – A contract that would allow Comcast to continue its operations in Urbana for the next decade – an agreement that is years in the making – will have to wait at least two weeks, after the city council on Monday night deferred a vote to the next meeting.

Council members wanted to give city administrators more time to revise the agreement, and some wanted to explore adding a clause that would commit the cable company to maintaining its local customer service office.

Debra Piscola, the regional director of government affairs and franchising for Comcast, said there are no plans to close the office. But alderwoman Diane Marlin said she was hesitant to move forward with the contract without a legal commitment.

"Not everyone is comfortable with using the Internet, or waiting for something to come in the mail or using the phone," Marlin said.

The cable franchise agreement is a contract that allows Comcast to use city property for its infrastructure, and the two parties haggle over its provisions.

The contract that was presented Monday night, for example, would force Comcast to turn over a portion of its revenue to the city and provide free cable service to certain public offices. It would also allow the city an opportunity to request another public programming channel.

Adding a clause that would require Comcast to keep its local customer service office would bring cable representatives and city administrators back to the negotiation table.

"I know it's probably not realistic to expect it to be part of the franchise agreement," Marlin said, but the city should examine whether it would be possible.

The same issue provoked the Champaign city council in August to turn down a similar agreement with Comcast. That contract would have required Comcast to keep the office open for 4- 1/2 years, and Champaign council members wanted a 10-year commitment. Champaign city officials must now renegotiate the contract.

The Urbana City Council will revisit the issue on Nov. 1.

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