twiw-horizontal-trans-150h
Is there a story you think we should be covering? Have a tip on something we should look at?
Contact Us

Cable Committee Chair: Worcester Now Has No Leverage with Spectrum

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

WORCESTER- John Keough, the Chairperson of the Worcester Cable Television Advisory Committee, responded to Worcester City Manager Eric Batista’s announcement that he would renew the city’s franchise agreement with Charter Spectrum to operate cable television service in the city.

Keough made comments in the latest episode of the This Week in Worcester Podcast, released on Friday, May 3. Keough is also co-host of the podcast.

As This Week in Worcester previously reported, Batista wrote 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 podcast, Keough said that committee members received no notification from Batista’s office prior to his blog post announcement. The committee began its work in 2020, though its members have changed during that time.

Worcester Now Has No Negotiating Position

Keough also added that there is “no negotiation position for the city anymore,” now that Spectrum knows there’s no chance of denial. “Part of our role in being able to recommend non-renewal was to give him that tool, to be able to negotiate the best possible deal for the city of Worcester,” Keough added.

In the committee’s unanimous report, it wrote that Spectrum fears denial, and the federally regulated process that denial begins.

“What position does the city have to argue unless they can threaten non-renewal?” said Keough. “They have no position. That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Even if federal regulators found Spectrum complied with the contract, “all that happens is the same contract goes into place. That’s it. That’s all that it means. So even if we went through the entire federal process, we would just end up with the same result,” according to Keough.

He also said that the company, not the city, is required to pay for that process.

Federal law and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations govern the cable television franchise renewal process with a municipality. According to Keough, denial does not mean that cable television service would stop in Worcester. Denial starts a process that requires the cable provider to show it has complied with the terms of the contract.

Keough said that there are four criteria the federal process evaluates for compliance with the contract, and the committee believes Spectrum has failed in all four areas.

A representative for Spectrum told the committee that the Worcester franchise license is the most profitable in New England for the company.

The City Manager is “Just Factually Wrong”

Some of the statements in Batista’s blog post, according to Keough, are “just factually wrong.”

In his blog post, Batista wrote that if another company were to come to Worcester to provide cable television services, “that company would either need to purchase Charter Spectrum’s existing cable network or build its own.”

Keough says that’s not true. “There is no such thing as a license that could give a company the right to override any other entity or company, or even the city itself because Massachusetts law says that those poles are public property.” He added that a representative from Spectrum made this claim in a public meeting and was corrected by the former Television Advisory Committee chair Jeff Levering.

Subscribers Declining Nine Times Faster Than Revenue

Batista also wrote in his blog post that “When the previous license agreement was executed in 2013, there were 48,000 cable service subscribers. In the decade since, the number of cable subscribers has dropped by more than half, with close to 23,000 subscribers in 2023.” He later added that, “In FY2015, the City received nearly $2.09 million from Charter Spectrum. By FY2024, that amount dropped to $1.97 million.”

The statistics provided by Batista represent a 52 percent decrease in subscribers since 2013, but just a 5.7 percent decrease in the franchise fees due to the city since 2015. The disparity reflects the aggressive price increases that many residents consistently voice objection to.

That revenue is generated from a five percent franchise fee that subscribers pay as a line item on their Spectrum bill. The company then remits those funds to the city. Keough described it as a “tax” that “the city is granting [Spectrum] the right to collect.”

Spectrum’s payment to the city of those fees is currently late, according to Keough. He also said the company is also supposed to provide notice to the city 30 days prior to price increases, which it fails to do.

Denial Does Not Lead to Service Cut-Off

Keough also discussed Batista’s claim that “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.”

The City of Springfield issued a denial of its franchise license agreement with its cable television provider, Comcast, in December 2021. No long, drawn-out process occurred. In February 2022, the city announced it had reached a new agreement with the company, including some new concessions. Service was never interrupted, and the city said it negotiated four public access channels in the new contract.

Worcester and Spectrum agreed to four public access channels in the current contract, but one has never been activated, according to Keough.

Keough said the way Springfield managed the renewal process is now considered “a model for the nation in getting a better deal, and they did not go through a lengthy process because as soon as the mayor issued that [denial] letter, Comcast came back to the table.”

Listen to the This Week in Worcester podcast, Episode 7 of 2024, for much more about the renewal process, what denial actually means, and what the Worcester Cable Television Advisory Committee found in its examination of the city’s cable televisions franchise license with Spectrum.

Follow us on The016.com, the social network for Worcester and you!