City OKs transfer to new cable company

Comcast will withdraw from Minneapolis to follow FCC regulations.

by Ethan Nelson

Minneapolis’ only cable TV provider is looking to transfer its services to another company.

The Minneapolis City Council approved a settlement on Friday that would transfer Comcast subscribers to a Comcast-spinoff company, called GreatLand Connections, pending the Federal Communications Commission’s approval of a merger between the company and Time Warner Cable.

If approved, monthly cable bills in Minneapolis would increase 36 cents beginning this year, and Comcast would pay the city $40,000 in currently unpaid fees.

Comcast can’t control more than 30 percent of the country’s cable market under FCC regulations. If it held on to Minneapolis and some of the other metro-area cities it serves, it would exceed that restriction. The company announced the proposed acquisition of Time Warner about a year ago.

The extra 36 cents per subscriber would help the city pay for public access channels, like Minneapolis 14 and Minneapolis 79. Thirty city buildings will receive free basic cable. The city will also receive 40 HD converter boxes and 3 digital converters, which would save the city about $50,000 a year.

Mary Beth Schubert, Comcast’s vice president of corporate affairs, said the transition would take place over several months, but because its planning is in the early stages — and still needs approval — the details aren’t finalized.

GreatLand Connections — which doesn’t exist yet but Comcast would create if the transfer was approved — would continue to provide public service announcements and public access channels. The new company would operate independently, but Comcast would own 67 percent of the new spinoff company.

GreatLand Connections would become the fifth-largest cable provider in the country with about 2.5 million subscribers.

CenturyLink applied last month to have a cable franchise in the city. If approved, it would be Minneapolis’ other cable franchise.

“I think competition is certainly a benefit to the city,” said Ward 3 City Councilman Jacob Frey, who represents the University of Minnesota and surrounding area. “If we can provide our residents with faster Internet, then I’d welcome it.”

The FloCo Fusion apartment building near the University subscribes to Comcast’s services.

Entrepreneurial management and marketing senior Alex Herrild, who lives in the apartments, said he has had problems with video streaming, and he isn’t happy with his Internet speed.

“Sometimes I can’t even get on my email,” he said. “If you can’t deliver on what you’re trying to do, then it’s not worth it.”

Herrild said he’d be glad to see Comcast leave, but he’s unsure if it would bring change.

He said he’d welcome more competition from CenturyLink, and that if he was an individual subscriber, he’d change his cable provider to one that’s more reliable.

Schubert said the company hasn’t received many comments or complaints from subscribers about the proposed transfer.

Comcast’s current franchise agreement with Minneapolis was approved in 2009 and would run through 2021.