Approval is expected this month for a five-year deal with the cable provider.
By Emily Le Coz
TUPELO – After nearly a decade without a cable-company franchise agreement, the City Council is likely to approve a new contract with Comcast of Tupelo later this month.
The city had let its previous agreement with Comcast expire about eight years ago, although it continued to allow the company to provide service to residents and continued to collect franchise fees.
The new contract simply formalizes the deal for a five-year term. It does not affect cable services or rates for customers.
Comcast spokeswoman Patricia Collins presented details of the plan at the council’s work session Monday afternoon and took questions from council members.
“This is a non-exclusive contract. It is not a monopoly,” said council President Berdell Jones, explaining that other cable providers can enter the Tupelo market and also offer television, telephone and Internet service.
Collins agreed and noted that the previous contract also was non-exclusive. She explained that, as part of the agreement, Comcast will continue to provide free cable service to the schools, offer free television access for educational and political programming and continue to improve service and respond to customer concerns and complaints.
She also said the company will keep on paying the city’s franchise fee, which is equal to 2 percent of the company’s annual gross revenues from the franchise area. Although the company pays the fees to the city, customers absorb the cost in their monthly cable bills.
The city earned $135,000 in franchise fees last year, which went directly into the general fund, said Kim Hanna, Tupelo’s interim chief financial officer.
At-Large Councilwoman Doyce Deas suggested the city raise the franchise fee to 5 percent, as allowed by federal law, but other council members quickly rejected that idea. They said Comcast customers don’t need higher bills during the recession.
Only Ward 3 Councilman Smith Heavner criticized the new contract, saying Comcast hadn’t adequately responded to customer complaints about poor service.
Collins said Comcast has expanded its customer service from a weekday operation to a 24-7 effort and now lets customers reach the company via e-mail and online chats, in addition to by phone.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 78-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.