City seeks franchise extension

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Every 10 years the City of Benson negotiates a new agreement with Charter Communications for its cable franchise in the community. The agreement allows Charter to use the city’s rights of way for its cable lines.
Negotiations on that new agreement were supposed to have started over a year ago so that the new one would be in place by the date the current document expires in October. To represent its interests, the city retained Twin Cities’ attorney Brian Grogan, a specialist in communications and technology.
Last summer, Grogan and City Manager Rob Wolfington thought the renewal process would be routine. In September, they sent a copy of the franchise agreement to Charter seeking input on any changes. Not less than six times the city sought a reply from Charter, but was met with silence. Finally, in early July, nine months after the city had tried to start a dialogue, Charter responded.
But the response was coming from a new management company handling Charter’s franchises with cities around the country. They are looking at a different format to the agreements as well as new terminology, which means the current one has be completely reworked.
After all of that wait, eight to nine months, Charter hired new management personnel. That is not good from the city’s perspective, Grogan told the council at its meeting Aug. 6.
When he looked through the draft copy of the agreement Charter’s representatives now want the city to sign, much of it doesn’t serve the city’s interests. The city could fight the agreement paragraph by paragraph, but that would take considerable time and expense.
Instead, Grogan recommended the City of Benson wait as other cities around the state, with considerably more resources such as St. Cloud, Rochester and some of the Twin Cities suburbs, come to terms with Charter. Whether the agreement is with a city of 5,000 or 50,000, it is fundamentally the same, he said.
Benson has already spent money preparing for the renewal of the document, he said.

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