Assisting municipalities in cable franchise renewal was the first practice area of the Cohen Law Group (CLG) when it was founded and continues to be a core service of the firm. CLG has represented hundreds of municipalities in several states in franchise negotiations with their cable operators. We have also assisted numerous multi-municipal groups, including councils of governments (COG’s) and other municipal associations, in these matters.
Local governments have the legal right to require their cable operator(s) to enter into a cable franchise agreement that allows the operator(s) to use the streets and roads (“public rights-of-way”). Municipal officials manage those rights-of-way as a public trust and are entitled to a reasonable return on the cable operator’s use of those public properties. This “reasonable return” includes significant financial and non-financial benefits from the cable operators.
A key benefit from a cable franchise is the receipt of franchise fees from the cable operator. Municipalities are permitted under law assess up to five percent (5%) of the cable operator’s gross revenues for cable services provided in the municipality. The term “gross revenues” includes over 25 separate revenue sources, including customer-based and non-customer based sources. CLG has developed a list of all eligible revenue sources and updates this list whenever a cable operator launches a new fee-based service.
CLG also obtains other important benefits from cable operators through franchise negotiations. Depending on the cable operator, these benefits may include: 1) a cash franchise grant; 2) improved franchise fee accountability; 3) free cable and/or internet services to municipal facilities; 4) a cable system upgrade within a specified time frame; 5) a build-out or extension of the cable system to unserved residential neighborhoods; 6) measurable and enforceable customer service standards; 7) public, educational and governmental (PEG) channels; and 8) strong enforcement measures.
CLG attorneys are able to maximize these benefits for our clients for three main reasons. First, we know the law pertaining to cable franchising and we closely monitor ongoing changes in the cable industry and at the Federal Communications Commission to determine their impact on our clients. Second, we know the cable companies and their individual franchise negotiators. We have many years of experience negotiating with virtually every cable operator in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia. As a result, we are familiar with the negotiating tactics of each company and the full array of benefits available to our clients, including those that the cable operators would not otherwise tell you.
Third and finally, we negotiate with cable operators firmly and aggressively and are relentless in pursuing maximum benefits for our clients. While the cable franchise process can be complicated and is governed by federal law and myriad regulations, the Cohen Law Group can guide your municipality through the process and ensure that it receives all of the benefits to which it is entitled.