County to consider new deal with Comcast

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County leaders could ink a new deal with Comcast to provide cable to residents, government offices and the school system.

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to set a public hearing next month for the county’s renewal of its franchise agreement with Comcast Cable. The board almost voted to approve the agreement without comment or public input. The item appeared on a list of matters the board planned to approve in a block referred to as the consent agenda.

But County Attorney Dan Whitten advised the board to take the franchise agreement off the meeting’s consent agenda, given the potential for the agreement to span up to 30 years. Whitten said he wanted to make sure the public had adequate opportunity to speak about the franchise renewal. The county had posted a notice on its website about the proposed renewal and provided addresses for residents to send their comments and concerns.

Comcast Cable has been the non-exclusive cable provider in Warren County since it took over Adelphia Cable. Comcast operates under a 10-year franchise agreement that took effect in July 2003 and extended for another five years in 2013. County officials and Comcast representatives started negotiations for the terms of the renewed franchise agreement a few years ago.

The proposed franchise agreement calls for an initial term of 15 years with three, 5-year, automatic renewals unless either party notifies the other at least three years before the renewal date of the intent not to renew the deal. Comcast would continue to hold its non-exclusive franchise throughout the county.

Other provisions of the proposed franchise deal state that:

• Comcast can trim trees or growth overhanging cables

• Lines remain above ground unless utilities in a neighborhood or area lie buried

• Provider is to serve areas of the county with 30 residential units per mile with aerial cable or 60 units per mile with underground lines and lines within one mile from the system truck or feeders. A home counts only if it lies within 125 feet of the public right of way.

• Comcast extends its system along public rights of way to the areas of Bennys Beach and Apple Mountain Lake South within 180 days of receiving easements and authorizations. Comcast agrees to provide service where houses lie within 150 feet of right of way.

• Comcast may charge for drops that exceed the allowed distance from the right of way.

• Comcast will allow up to three government and/or educational channels. The county has one channel currently and additional channels will be provided once there is at least eight hours per day of non-repetitive programming.

• Comcast will provide free, basic cable and installation to one outlet at each public school, fire station, police station, library and other building owned by the county or the School Board and used for governmental or school purposes.

• The provider must furnish an initial equipment grant of $31,000 for capital purposes and equipment use.

• Comcast cannot transfer the franchise without the county’s consent.

• The provider must pay liquidated damages for delays or specific failures or for not meeting federal customer service standards.

The county posted a notice on its website that indicated the board sought to renew the cable franchise agreement with Comcast and would consider approving the deal at the meeting. The notice informed residents that they could send comments and concerns to County Administrator Doug Stanley, 220 N. Commerce Ave., Suite 100, Front Royal, Virginia 22630 or by email to dstanley@warrencountyva.net.

Specifically, the agreement would be between the county and Comcast of California/Maryland/Pennsylvania/Virginia/West Virginia LLC.