Charter Communications is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut. Photo courtesy of Jason Rearick

The group of towns hoping to renegotiate their cable television contracts with Charter Communications has begun working with a telecommunications law firm in Minneapolis.

The 14 municipalities, which include Bridgton, Casco, Gray, Naples, New Gloucester, Windham and Raymond, are unhappy about what they see as the company’s failure to follow through on extending lines of service into the community. They are also trying to negotiate a higher percentage of franchise fees, which are collected from customers and paid to the municipality quarterly in exchange for the cable company bringing cable to the community.

“The cable companies were not responsive to municipalities when we had complaints and issues. There is nobody helping us enforce those contracts,” Naples Town Manager John Hawley said in an earlier interview.

The Greater Portland Council of Governments has joined forces with the group of towns as its contracting agent and has signed an agreement with Bradley Law in Minneapolis, which will bill GPCOG directly.

Bradley submitted the only proposal that GPCOG received for the project, said Director of Municipal Collaboration Tony Plante, former Windham town manager. But he added that Bradley is a “nationally-known firm in telecommunications law.” 

According to Plante, Bradley is in the process of gathering letters of intent from the 14 communities that would like to participate in the negotiations.

After that process is complete, Bradley will begin “collecting basic information about their franchises and doing some assessment work with local officials. They’ll start doing some work around franchise fees that have been paid by cable companies to municipalities over the years to make sure those are accurate.”

Contracts between a town and cable company are often 10 years long, and even when they expire, a municipality can continue to operate under an expired contract.

Phase 1 of the process, Plante says, is renewing and renegotiating franchise fees for these towns.

Each of the municipalities, regardless of its size, is paying Bradley $5,000 plus expenses for phase 1.

The second part of the phase is further negotiations, but Plante hopes that that won’t be necessary.

The contract with Bradley runs through June 30, 2021. Plante hopes to complete franchise renewals by September 2020.

The municipalities will also be helped along by a new law that was approved June 7, titled “An Act To Ensure Nondiscriminatory Treatment of Public, Educational and Governmental Access Channels by Cable System Operators.”

The law was created by the Community Television Association of Maine and addresses a number of issues, including line extensions, automatic franchise renewals and the numeric sequence of public, educational and governmental channels.

Plante said the new law will “absolutely help” because some things that municipalities are looking for are now non-negotiable.

In an earlier interview, he said that “by combining the subscribers and going to the cable company with a single voice, hopefully we’ll get them to pay more attention to what communities are looking for.”

Now, “we’re just getting the i’s dotted and getting started with the work.”

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