Mpls. blesses Comcast merger, gets some free cable

Thirty Minneapolis city buildings will get free basic cable for the next seven years as part of a package of concessions the city wrung out of Comcast in exchange for blessing its proposed merger with fellow cable giant Time Warner.

The free service and equipment is valued at about $50,000.

Comcast has also agreed to pay Minneapolis $40,000 in overdue franchise fees after an audit found it underpaid the city for its use of the public right of way over the last three years.

Minneapolis cable customers will see a small increase on their bills as a result of the agreement, which goes before the city council next week. It raises the fees the company collects from subscribers by 36 cents a month to support public access programming on channels 14, 79 and the Minneapolis Telecommunications Network, which will share an extra $250,000 a year as a result.

 

Comcast needs the city’s permission to transfer its franchise agreement to a spin off called GreatLand Connections. The move is part of an effort to alleviate anti-trust concerns and increase the chances of federal approval for the merger.

Comcast has offered to transfer 2.5 million customers in the Midwest and Southeast to GreatLand if the merger goes through. Greatland would be operated independently, but Comcast and Time Warner would own 67 percent of the company.

Minneapolis isn’t the only city to drive a hard bargain over the proposed merger. The Lexington, Ky., city council voted to oppose the merger last fall because leaders said Time Warner refused to address complaints from customers there. Both companies are infamous for their poor customer service.

The concessions Minneapolis won are relatively small compared to the $4.5 million it will get from Comcast this year in fees. But if you’ve ever tried to get a refund from the company, you know it probably wasn’t easy.