Steamboat Comcast service center in the crosshairs at City Council discussion
The City of Steamboat Springs is updating the terms of its franchise agreement with Comcast, specifically cable television, and some significant changes might be on the way.
On Tuesday, Oct. 11, Steamboat’s Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Bock asked City Council for direction regarding several potential changes, including whether the city should maintain its Public, Education and Government TV Channel 6.
But the conversation quickly shifted toward Comcast’s Xfinity service center at 625 S. Lincoln Ave. next to Freshies Restaurant.
The current terms of the Comcast franchise in Steamboat require the operation of a local service center, but Comcast wants to remove that requirement from the agreement with the city.
“A lot of the elements of this we’ve been pretty flexible on,” said the Director of Government Affairs for Comcast Andy Davis. “But this is one that’s really an important element, that we not be required to have (a local office). We’re going to continue to maintain it, but just not have the requirement to have it.”
Davis argues that customers can return cable boxes by mail and traffic in the Comcast stores has continually decreased in Steamboat and other communities.
City Council, however, shared some concerns.
“I have never been in that office where it hasn’t been busy,” said Robin Crossan, the city council president. “That’s interesting that you’re saying the people coming into the office is going down because that’s never been my experience in that office.”
Crossan said she would like to see how many people visit the Comcast service center on a daily or weekly basis. She said if it can be proven that there’s no longer a need for the store, she’d be okay with dropping the requirement for Comcast to maintain the location.
Council member Ed Briones said he likes having a local store because customers don’t have to wait for equipment to come through the mail, especially when dealing with faulty units.
“There’s been multiple times when I’ve switched out modems,” Briones said. “I plug it in, it doesn’t work. Go back there, get a new one, plug it in, doesn’t work.”
Council member Dakotah McGinlay added many people like going to stores in-person and enjoy the social interactions that brick and mortar stores provide. She asked if the local store does close, would Comcast be willing to provide a local phone number and local staff as an alternative to calling Comcast’s 1-800 number.
“If there is a cost associated with something like that, it is something we have the right to pass along to customers,” Davis said.
“Are you going to pass along the savings of not having rent and staff and everything else that goes with a local center?” McGinlay replied.
Davis responded that those were purely hypothetical, as it’s not Comcast’s intent to close the service center and are only seeking to negotiate its way out of the city’s requirement to keep that office operating.
Council also discussed keeping PEG Channel 6, which broadcasts local governmental meetings and political debates. The city also broadcasts meetings and debates online, so canceling Channel 6 wouldn’t eliminate the service it provides.
“It was out for a couple of weeks and we got two or three complaints,” Bock said before asking council whether to continue broadcasting Channel 6. Bock wasn’t seeking to instruct City Council in either direction, but City Manager Gary Suiter made an assertive staff recommendation.
“I believe we should provide every opportunity possible for outreach to the public,” Suiter said.
City Council agreed with Suiter, though no formal decision was made.
City Council recommended cutting its free cable TV service that provides cable for local schools and government entities, which fewer people are using. The service is not free and is offered by deducting money from the 3% franchise fee Comcast remits to the city, which pays for Comcast’s ability to use the city’s right-of-ways to lay cable.
“Does the community center use it?” Bock asked rhetorically. “Do we use it here in City Hall? Does the school district use it? The answer’s no.”
To reach Spencer Powell, call 970-871-4229 or email him at spowell@SteamboatPilot.com
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