Sammamish must strive for competition in cable market
March 12, 2014
The deck is stacked pretty firmly against Sammamish (and localities in general) when it comes to negotiating better terms in a cable franchise agreement.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, and the city must strive to find ways to allow for increased competition.
Citizens are asking for other options. There are horror stories of poor customer service and rising rates. With no competition, there is no reason for the current provider, Comcast, to improve its practices or pricing structure.
Federal regulations hamstring localities when it comes to negotiating a franchise agreement. Once a company has established itself, it is next to impossible to force them to leave. As a result, local governments can’t simply walk away from the table in search of a better deal – a fact not lost on the cable operators.
Cities instead are forced to do the best they can with their existing provider, usually using harried employees who have these agreements being just one more thing dumped in their lap once in a decade or so.
Operators, who cut these deal every day, are able to insert clauses in the agreements (such as one that mandates that the city not offer a better deal to a competitor), which seem to be in the interest of fairness, but really serve to dampen competition.
If the city can’t find another company to come in, perhaps they should consider doing it themselves. Attaching wireless routers to streetlights could be a relatively cheap way to offer, at least, Internet access to the community at large. It could be treated like a public utility.
While we are generally loathe to encourage the government to compete with a private business, this is a special case. The business has an effective monopoly and holds most all of the cards when it comes to a deal, and Internet access is becoming critically important to effective functioning in modern life.
Comcast has more experience in these deals, and deeper pockets than the city, but the people need someone to stand for them. The council should resist taking an easy deal and find a way to ensure the people get good service at reasonable prices.