Shoreview's out

City sets up exit from North Suburban Communications Commission

Shoreview has voted to leave the North Suburban Communications Commission at the end of the year and to send the commission a letter regarding its decision prior to an Oct. 15 deadline, though the city is still keeping its options open.
 
The action voted upon at an Aug. 18 council meeting states that Shoreview will reserve its right to rescind its planned exit from NSCC before the end of the year, and urges NSCC to resolve its franchise negotiations with Comcast without going to court.
 
The action also stated the city would retain a law firm to assist in its own negotiations with Comcast, should it be necessary.
 
NSCC and Comcast have been in franchise negotiations for four years. The franchise agreement sets the rules of cable operations in the area and the level of funding for services like public access programming, which is paid for by Comcast customers. NSCC enforces the franchise agreement.
 
Though the current franchise agreement expired late last year, both NSCC and Comcast agreed to extend it to November. 
 
Due to changes in federal law and programming needs, it's widely agreed that any new franchise will result in less funding for public access programming and the commission's sister organization, the North Suburban Access Corporation, as well as CTV, which is operated by NSAC.
 
NSCC now consists of Arden Hills, Falcon Heights, Lauderdale, Little Canada, Mounds View, New Brighton, North Oaks, Roseville and St. Anthony.
 
Exit strategy
 
Shoreview, which at a June 2 meeting had put off voting on exiting the commission, left the commission because of its strained relationship with Comcast and the amount of money it has spent on legal fees during negotiations.
 
According to Shoreview Mayor Sandy Martin at the Aug. 18 meeting, speaking prior to the vote, NSCC spent more than $800,000 over the past three years on legal fees.
 
The Shoreview council acknowledged that by leaving NSCC they would give up some bargaining power in franchise negotiations and would lose some cable access programming, as well as having to distribute video of recorded city functions like council and commission meetings without the aid of NSAC.
 
However, as stated by City Manager Terry Schwerm, Shoreview would save its annual $70,000 contribution to NSCC, would have greater discretion over money spent enforcing the agreement and would retain public access fees paid by cable subscribers who live in the city.
 
Council member Ady Wickstrom, who is also Shoreview's representative on the NSCC, summed up the council's mood, which voted 4-0 to exit.
 
"I really feel that it's in the subscribers' best interest and the city's that we leave the commission," Wickstrom said. "It's not our first choice, obviously, but the commission has not made any move to making any changes."
 
Negotiations continue
 
CTV executive director Cor Wilson said she was unsure of how Shoreview's exit from NSCC will affect franchise discussions, though she did comment on the city's role thus far.
 
"They've been a challenge throughout the negotiations," Wilson said.
 
Wilson said she was "still hopeful" that lawyer-to-lawyer, informal negotiations would result in a new franchise agreement. Formal negotiations, set in motion by federal law and the 10 member cities' rejection of a Comcast franchise proposal in June, are moving forward as well, with lawyers from both sides set to have a first meeting with an administrative judge Aug. 27.
 
The administrative judge would put franchise proposals from both NSCC and Comcast under the scrutiny of federal law and decide the merits of each.
 
Complicating franchise discussions, according to Wilson, are Comcast's plans to divest from the Twin Cities cable market to clear the way for the company's merger with Time Warner Cable.
 
Wilson said Comcast, which submitted a franchise transfer application June 18, has supplied very little information about the company by which it will be replaced.
 
Wilson said cable commissions across the metro are scrambling to make recommendations about the transfer to the cities they represent prior to an Oct. 18 transfer decision deadline.
 
NSCC will take up the transfer issue at its Sept. 4 meeting.
 
In light of the possibility of decreased funding for NSAC because of a future franchise agreement, Wilson said the organization's strategic planning committee was running through "different [budget] scenarios" for when both the franchise and transfer issues are resolved.
 
Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.
 
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