Speak now, or forever hold your peace. Well, OK, not forever, but for 10 years.
Those in Montgomery Township will have the chance tonight to speak their minds about Comcast. The television cable, Internet and telephone provider is due for its renewal of a "cable franchise agreement" (CFA) with the municipality.
"In order for companies like Comcast or Verizon to use publicly owned rights-of-way for the placement of cables under or above ground, they enter into agreements with local governments," said Lawrence Gregan, Montgomery Township manager. "It is pretty common throughout Pennsylvania."
Gregan said this process is made necessary by the Federal Cable Communications Act, which requires such agreements be made.
"With Comcast, it is scheduled to expire, and is up for renewal," said Gregan. "There is a process in the law that dictates how you go about renewing those agreements, and one requirement is that the municipality hold a public hearing to take comment on the cable franchise."
"Any comments generated wil be used as part of negotiations when we reach our new cable franchise agreement," said Gregan.
The agreements are not exclusive, by law, meaning that similar agreements are also made with companies such as Verizon.
"Our goal, as a township, is to provide the extension of cable services to as many residents as possible," said Gregan.
Gregan said the board expects to hear comments ranging from service quality to utility poles and placement of access points.
The purpose of this is to take public comment, and make it public record, he said. Those comments, which will be transcribed by a court reporter at tonight's meeting, will then be taken into the law firm hired by Montgomery Township to negotiate the new contract.
There is a fee involved with hiring such a firm to handle the agreement, however, the township often comes out will in the "black" when it is all said and done.
"We've had to engage special counsel to more forward with the franchise agreement, but we do a fee analysis, as well. The township does receive a fee for being permitted to access the rights-of-way," said Gregan.
The manager estimated the total costs of the law firm to average around $18,000 to $19,000 in legal fees. The township then generally gets a percentage of the cable bills,.
"Right now we are around five percent," said Gregan. He said that percentage brings between $350,000 to $400,000 to the township each eyar.
"Overall, it is a positive," he said.
The agreement is a 10-year contract. He said the frequency can be a challenge.
"You are trying to imagine what technology will do in the industry ten years from now," said Gregan. "It has taken pretty significant leaps in that time."
The Montgomery Township Board of Supervisors will meet tonight at 8 p.m. The full agenda is available here for the meeting tonight.