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Batista to Reject Recommendations, Renew Spectrum Contract

By Tom Marino | May 1, 2024
Last Updated: May 3, 2024

WORCESTER – City Manager Eric Batista indicated in a post on his Substack blog on Wednesday that he will reject the unanimous recommendation of the Cable Advisory Committee and renew the city’s contract with Charter Spectrum.

In the blog, Batista writes:

“The City could deny Charter Spectrum’s license agreement, but we would have to enter into lengthy legal proceedings. If we won, we would leave cable subscribers without any option in the city and lose funding for PEG Channels and Cable Services in Worcester.”

Denial also does not initiate a legal proceeding, defined by Merriam-Webster as, “actions taken to settle an argument in a court of law.” Federal law entitles existing cable franchises to renewal, unless the company has not complied with the terms of its contract. Denial would start review by federal regulators. That review would require Spectrum to demonstrate it has complied with the terms of the contract.

As This Week in Worcester previously reported, the Cable Advisory Committee Ascertainment report found that Spectrum, “have objectively, from any and all perspectives, failed to live up to the terms of their contract.”

In December 2021, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno issued a denial letter to Comcast for a franchise license renewal in that city. In February 2022, the two sides announced they agreed to a new ten-year contract. Service continued as normal throughout the process.

According to the City of Springfield, it was able to negotiate the following between denial and the renewal:

  • Comcast would maintain and operate its customer service center in Springfield for the entire 10-year term;
  • No caps on liquidated damages if Comcast defaults in the performance of provisions of the renewal license;
  • Four Public Access (PEG) channels, two high-definition (HD), two standard-definition;
  • Comcast will provide free installation of cable TV drops and connections at public buildings (schools, community centers, neighborhood libraries, etc.), at no cost;
  • The franchise fee of two percent remained, but the city has an option to raise the fee by 0.75 percent no more than three times during the 10-year license term.

Springfield Mayor Sarno and City Council President Jesse Lederman have advocated for municipal broadband since 2020, and have launched a feasibility study to study the possibility while pursuing state and federal funding.

As This Week in Worcester previously reported, in response to a question about municipal broadband on Talk of the Commonwealth with Hank Stolz in April 2023, on Batista said, “it would be very impossible for us to do that.”

The City of Worcester already has a five percent franchise fee, the maximum allowed by law. That cost is passed onto the consumer, and appears on the bill of subscribers. Worcester currently has three PEG channels, though its current contract with Spectrum says the company will provide four PEG channels.

According to the Cable Advisory Committee’s report, Worcester has “the most profitable license in New England,” for cable television.

Batista concluded his blog post by saying:

“I am currently working with the Cable Services department to move through the renewal process and will use the tools at my disposal to do the best I can to get the best license agreement for the City while adhering to federal and state guidelines.”

This is at least the second time Batista has made this unilateral concession publicly, saying the city will renew its agreement with Charter. He also said the contract would be renewed in the interview with Stolz in April 2023.

The Cable Advisory Committee concluded its report with:

“It is this committee’s final thought, that Spectrum, upon reading these recommendations, does not want, and in fact fears the long drawn-out process of denial at the federal level. They have objectively from any and all perspectives, failed to live up to the terms of their contract.”

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