Another City Wants To Stop Comcast From Taking Over Cable Service

Weeks after city leaders in Lexington, KY, made it clear that they are not pleased about the promise of being passed around like a hot potato from Time Warner Cable to Comcast to Charter, the City Council of Worcester, MA, is also laying out the unwelcome mat for Comcast.

Worcester, which is currently being served by Charter, would become a Comcast city if the cable company’s merger with Time Warner Cable goes through. The merged mega-company would swap several markets with Charter in order to gain a more continuous footprint in the D.C.-Boston corridor.

But the Worcester City Council voted 8-3 earlier this week to ask City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. to not agree to the transfer of Worcester’s cable franchise agreement from Charter to Comcast.

The Council cited residents’ concerns about Comcast’s “substandard customer service practices.”

Augustus was scheduled to make a decision yesterday, but Comcast agreed to a two-week extension, giving the City Manager, who is not obliged to follow the Council’s suggestion, some time to mull over his decision.

“I have heard loud and clear from Worcester residents and the city council their concerns,” said Augustus in a statement. “I have been engaged in fruitful conversations with Comcast regarding these issues, including the vital matters of jobs and consumer protection.”

If Augustus does say no to the franchise transfer, it may just be a speed bump for Comcast, which could appeal to the state’s Cable Television Commission.

The city’s acting chief development officer tells the Telegram & Gazette that bad customer service is not among the four criteria that the City Manager is supposed to use when determining whether to sign off on a license transfer.

Those criteria are the company’s management, technical and legal experience, and its financial capabilities.

Though the Council vote does not compel the Manager to oppose the transfer, and there is little that the Manager can do to ultimately stop Comcast from taking over the license, some Council members say this is about making regulators in D.C. know what’s going on outside of the Beltway.

“This is not a paper vote; this is not an empty vote,” said Councilor-at-Large Konstantina B. Lukes, chair of the council’s Public Service and Transportation Committee. “This is a very clear vote that we are not going to tolerate the kind of responses we got from Charter and Comcast.”

Council member Gary Rosen was more blunt in his assessment of Comcast.

“It’s a terrible company,” he explained. “In my opinion, they should not be welcome in this city. Comcast is a wolf in wolf’s clothing; it’s that bad. They are awful, no doubt about it. Maybe we can’t stop it, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out.”

[via Ars Technica]