The City of Springfield, Massachusetts and Comcast settled a lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court and executed a non-exclusive Renewal Cable Television License on December 27, 2012, which provides for payments of more than $1.4 Million from Comcast.
The City’s lawsuit sought review of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable (“DTC”) Rate Order and also commenced a civil action against Comcast in which the City alleged claims against Comcast in relation to the parties’ rights and obligations under the Renewal License. The claims included allegations related to the treatment of Franchise Related Services in rates for services. The DTC approved the “Rate Order”, which was subsequently affirmed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
Comcast denied and defended against the City’s claims, and the parties have negotiated the terms of a new renewal cable television license and, without Comcast or the City admitting any liability to the other or any wrongdoing of any kind, resolved and settled all disputes between them.
The settlement agreement and license renewal terms provide, in summary:
1. Comcast will make payments totaling $900,000, without pass through of such costs to subscribers, over the term of the Renewal License. This will consist of annual payments of $80,000 per year for cable related activities; a one-time payment of $60,000 to the PEG Access Corporation for cable related activities, including relocation of the PEG (designated for public, educational, or governmental use) access studio; and a one-time payment of $40,000 for cable related equipment at senior centers and activities for seniors.
2. Comcast will pay collected Franchise Related Costs since the January 2010 expiration of the last license in the amount of $536,437.29 for the provision of PEG Access.
3. Comcast will transfer all of its studio equipment to the Access Corporation.
4. Comcast will construct two (2) new Video Return Lines in the City at no cost to the City, Access Corporation, Access Users or subscribers for the new studio and the School Department building, bringing the total to five (5) including the City Hall, Symphony Hall and Library and Museums at the Quadrangle.
5. Comcast will make four (4) PEG Access Channels available for use by the City and/or the Access Corporation;
6. Comcast will provide the non-profit PEG Access Corporation with annual funding in the amount of 2% of its Gross Annual Revenues, less any documented fees associated with maintenance of the Video Return Network to cover costs of running the studio and production of programs. Monies from cable franchise fees are paid to government for use of right-of-ways. The revenue is estimated to provide approximately $600,000 annually.
7. Comcast will grandfather the current senior discount (10% off Standard/age 62+/heads of household) so subscribers who currently enjoy that discount will continue to do so. In addition, Comcast will add a new discount going forward so that new subscribers who are head of households and age 62+, or current subscribers who are head of household and turn 62, will enjoy $2 off Digital Starter.
The Comcast funding will allow for continued broadcasting of public meetings from City Hall, and Symphony Hall as well as adding the ability for broadcasting from the new School Department offices as well as a new PEG Access studio.
Springfield’s PEG Access corporation, Springfield Media and Telecommunications Group, Inc., is restructuring its focus and is planning for a new state of the art studio location in downtown to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the new funding. This will benefit of residents and cable subscribers through stimulating economic development, as well as artistic and cultural programming that showcases the City’s attributes.
It is expected that the new studio will be located in the next six months and expand programming available through access channels as well as provide grant funding to grassroots groups, individuals, private non-profits or governmental organizations interested in producing content related to such topics of interest to viewers such as Springfield’s artistic, cultural, historic, environmental, educational, and recreational resources and activities at low cost or free of charge with an inclusive, content neutral, first come, first served, free speech ideology.
The monies will be used to operate the facilities, employ staff and trainers, develop curriculum, operate training workshops, schedule and maintain equipment, manage the cablecast of shows and publish promotion materials to build station viewership. In addition, the PEG Access Corporation will continue to maintain and expand the fiber network connecting municipal buildings for the transmission of video and related information.