Andrew Trzaska | July 9, 2013
The City of Muskegon’s 25-year old cable TV franchise agreement with Comcast expires in less than a month, and the city plans to renegotiate with the company before completing the renewal.
The agreement allows Comcast to use city rights of way to lay cables and other infrastructure. It does not make Comcast the exclusive cable provider in the city.
A new style of contract called a Uniform Franchise Agreement is required under a 2006 state law called the Uniform Franchise Act. This law attempted to standardize all contracts between municipalities and providers of cable TV, taking away a measure of local control and giving it to the state. As part of the law, local governments must approve new, completed franchise agreements within 30 days.
In a recommendation summary obtained from the city at, city legal counsel state best interest to “deny the Uniform Franchise as initially submitted by Comcast and delegate the authority to negotiate with Comcast to the city manager by adoption of the attached resolution.”
The City of Detroit challenged the Uniform Franchise Agreement last year. The court struck down some details of the law, the most important being a rule that said if certain terms of an existing agreement did not fit to the new form, the terms would be eliminated. The federal court that ruled on the law said that the Federal Cable Act allowed for these special “public, educational and governmental” (PEG) terms, and the Michigan law could not override federal law. The court ruling also dealt with some wording that now allows municipalities to deny Uniform Franchise Agreements. Before the Detroit ruling, it was unclear if the city was allowed to.
The city opted to deny the terms presented by Comcast and instructed city staff to renegotiate with Comcast. As part of its reasons for denying the Agreement terms, it said it wanted to negotiate added cable access at Hartshorn Marina, and “connections to city facilities,” both of which will likely be part of staff negotiations.
The City of Muskegon also hopes to retain the number of PEG channels in the agreement going forward, which appears to be possible now that the court has ruled that past contract terms can continue if the agreement allows for them.
The vote on the Uniform Franchise Agreement led Vice Mayor Larry Spataro to publicly clarify the terms of the deal. Most specifically, he said the 25-year Comcast deal and the new pending deal did not make them the exclusive cable company within city limits.
“If there’s any other cable companies that want to come in and compete, they’re more than welcome,” said Spataro.
Commissioner Eric Hood chimed in about confusion that city residents may have about Comcast’s status in the city.
“When companies advertise on TV, the number [customers] are told to call will say ‘That’s Muskegon. We don’t do business there. That’s Comcast.’ And they think it’s true,” said commissioner Eric Hood.
Commissioners voted 7-0 to pass the deal. The city will now negotiate with Comcast before their agreement ends on August 2.