Town, Comcast at loggerheads over use of municipal network

Towns and service providers are forever in disputes. Usually these involve services and/or subscription and franchise fees. However, the dispute between Comcast and Middleboro, Mass. could attract attention outside New England because it goes to the heart of who owns the municipal networks that cable operators build for community use.

Ten years ago, Middleboro paid Comcast $250,000 to build an institutional network (I-net) to connect 18 buildings with cable TV service, data sharing and voice communications. This, town fathers believe, gives them ownership and the right to lease the network to a third party. Comcast, worried that that third party could come in and use the I-net to provide wireless television services, disagrees and wants to put a clause in its next franchise agreement prohibiting such a lease.

"We are willing to have a non-compete clause ... but the town paid $250,000 10 years ago and yet Comcast believes the town should not be able to lease the I-net or allow a third party to transmit," said city attorney Robert Treano in a story in South Coast Today. "We just want to make sure it's used for municipal purposes," responded Mary O'Keefe, Comcast's government and community relations manager.

The impasse, over what Treano described as "three lines in a 65-page document," has been going on since negotiations started in December 2008 and may ultimately be resolved only through state intervention--and that's almost guaranteed to grab national attention.

For more:
- South Coast Today has this story

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