Pasco still negotiating new cable franchise agreement with Charter

Pasco officials are back at the table with Charter Communications trying to work out a new franchise agreement, five months after Comcast Corp. scrapped a $45 billion merger deal to take over several cable markets in the Northwest.

Pasco’s agreement with Charter to serve as the city’s cable TV provider is set to expire Sept. 30.

City staff on Monday night recommended an extension to Feb. 1 since more time is now needed to complete the renewal process.

Charter already has agreed to the extension, and Pasco City Council members appeared to support the four-month delay.

The city council is scheduled to vote at the Sept. 21 meeting on the proposed ordinance. The cable-telecommunications giant then will have up to 12 days to formally accept the extension.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable had long been in talks to merge in a $45.2 billion agreement.

As part of a tradeoff to meet federal regulations, Comcast was going to take over Charter’s Northwest operations, including franchises in the Tri-Cities, and Comcast would have given up some of its franchises in the Midwest and Southeast.

A McClatchy Newspapers report said that uniting the nation’s two largest cable providers would have meant one company controlled up to 30 percent of the pay TV subscriptions and 50 percent of the high-speed Internet market.

Last November, the Pasco City Council approved the transfer of the cable franchise from Charter to Comcast by a 5-1 vote.

Mayor Matt Watkins cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he opposed the transfer because of Comcast’s poor customer service ratings. His fellow council members pointed out that Pasco had little choice in the matter if every other city agreed to allow Comcast to come in.

Then, as Comcast was trying to get regulatory approval, the company announced in April that the deal with Time Warner Cable had fallen apart, and it was calling off the related transaction with Charter.

“Yes, this is déjà vu again for, I don’t know how many times, I think we have gone through this process,” said Deputy City Manager Stan Strebel.

For the past four years, Pasco has been preparing for and conducting negotiations with Charter to renew the franchise agreement, according to city staff. Those talks were temporarily put on hold when it appeared Comcast was going to be the cable provider.

Now, Charter is looking to merge with Time Warner Cable in a deal that would leave Charter in control of Pasco’s franchise.

The four-month extension should “give us time to hopefully complete the renewal process,” Strebel told council members. “We are continuing to maintain our rights under the formal renewal process we implemented a couple years ago so, in the event we’re not able to reach a negotiation in the informal process,” it will move into the formal process.

Strebel previously told the council that other cable companies are not likely to come in, since they would have to either buy Charter’s infrastructure or put in their own.

Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer