New franchise terms set for Harford County

The Harford County Council has passed legislation reducing the term of future cable television franchise agreements to 10 years from 15.

During the council's final legislative session of 2013, on Dec. 17, the franchise bill was the only one that drew substantial comments from council members, some of whom requested that Comcast offer different channel selections and others who said they are concerned about whether the pace of technology might affect future franchise agreements.

Of the three cable providers serving Harford, Comcast has held a county franchise the longest, since the mid-1970s. Armstrong Cable has a franchise mainly serving northern Harford County, while Verizon FiOS entered in the market in the past five years.

Comcast is in the midst of negotiating a new franchise agreement with the county, which caused some of the consternation for the council when it discussed the legislation of the length of franchise agreements.

After Harford County Farm Bureau representative Bob Tibbs asked for the RFD (rural life) channel to be offered as part of the agreement, Councilman Jim McMahan said he is concerned about the need to renegotiate certain cable channels.

He claimed 50 percent of Comcast channels are "shopping or Latin."

"I don't believe 50 percent of people in Harford County speak Latin, or Latino," McMahan said.

With some of the remaining channels being "religious," McMahan claimed he only counted about eight of "what people consider normal channels."

Councilman Dick Slutzky pointed out that providers have full authority to determine programming with or without a franchise agreement.

"I just don't want to have false hope established for those that are hearing his conversation," Slutzky said.

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti was alone in voting against the bill.

She said she is concerned about changing the rules in the middle of a negotiation period, noting that Comcast and the county are still negotiating.

She also said the county has extended contracts with other franchisees for 15 years, not 10.

She said the council was asked to extend the negotiations through December and gave the negotiating team a set of parameters they are still working through.

"I don't think it's good business to change the law in midstream," she said.

Councilman Chad Shrodes said he just wants to stay on top of technology, since no one knows what the next 10 years will bring. He also said other counties have 10-year agreements.

"I want to be ahead of the times, not behind the times," he said.

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