Comcast Criticized for Preempting Channel


The preempting of local programming on a community access channel by Comcast Cablevision has angered City Council members, who reluctantly approved a 30-cent rate increase this week for basic cable services.

Council members say they will not oppose the increase now but will fight for a better franchise agreement during negotiations that are to begin soon. A 15-year franchise agreement between the city and Comcast expires in March 1997.

Community access programs on Channel 3, including Planning Commission meetings and other school district and community-produced shows, were preempted on two days last week by a movie marathon.


“I cannot believe they can, with impunity, preempt our scheduled programming,” Mayor Marilyn Bruce Hastings said.

Public access producer Rob Roy told council members that running commercially produced movies in place of community-produced programming on Channel 3 violates the city’s contract with the cable operator.

“The local channel is supposed to be specifically for public access,” Roy said. “As I understand it, it should not be preempted for [commercial] programming.”

Comcast public affairs director Steve Rosenthal said the company’s motivation was to provide subscribers an opportunity to see commercial-free movies. But he acknowledged the reaction has been negative. “This was an unusual occurrence, and we won’t do it again,” he said.

The 30-cent rate increase for basic cable service goes into effect Feb. 1. The council chose not to challenge the fee because of an estimated $10,000 cost for hiring a consultant.

Said City Manager Keith Till: “We will focus our efforts on the upcoming franchise renewal negotiations in an attempt to get the very best rate and the best service we can from this point forward.”