Cable franchise agreement earns council approval

Increased access a highlight of new deal


Clint Riese
News Editor

Nearly two years of negotiations have led to a new franchise agreement between the Forest Lake Cable Commission and Midcontinent.

LATV_LOGOThe City Council unanimously approved the 15-year contract Nov. 18. At that meeting, Cable Commission Executive Director Sarah Chatwin said the board left the bargaining table pleased.

“Initially when we met with Midcontinent, they wanted us just to approve the existing franchise and move it forward 10, 15 years,” Chatwin said. “We said no, we really wanted to study the agreement, do our research, negotiate with them and meet with them to talk about how we can make this agreement better.”

Chatwin, hired as negotiations began in January 2012, said the commission achieved its top priorities. Foremost, the new deal will provide increased access to users in the three-city coverage area of Forest Lake, Columbus and Scandia.

The former agreement, penned in 1997, called for the cable provider to extend its network to areas with a density of 10 homes per quarter cable mile. The new one reduces the requirement to six homes. Midcontinent will now extend lines up to 200 feet from the street. That is 50 feet more than the former agreement and 75 feet more than the federal standard.

The commission’s second goal was to obtain increased revenue from Public Educational Government fees, which are a main funding mechanism for Lakes Area Community Television. Fees have calculated to 70 cents per month, per subscriber. They will jump to $1.50 per month for five years, then to $1.65 for five years and finally to $1.80 for the deal’s final third.

“This will really help with maintaining our local access community station, in terms of equipment. … Some of that is worn out at this time,” Chatwin said.

Midcontinent will continue to be charged the maximum franchise fee: 5 percent of gross revenue.

Councilmembers aired minor concerns, like the lack of live broadcast locations available to the community television station, but by and large praised the new deal.

“Sarah and the Cable Commission worked diligently on this,” said Councilman Ben Winnick, the council’s liaison to the Cable Commission. “They went over it with a fine-toothed comb. I think this is a great compromise. Midcontinent’s got to be here to make money. This isn’t giving in or winning or losing.”

Other business

The council also:

– Gave final approval to United Properties’ Planned Unit Development request relating to the Cherrywood Pointe project. Construction of the downtown, 92-unit senior apartment building is to begin in January, following demolition of the former Stock Lumber building in December.

– By a 3-2 vote, approved a conduit financing request of the Lakes International Language Academy Building Company. This allows the Forest Lake charter school to build a 40,000-square-foot elementary building along Fenway Avenue. The council approved the request this summer, but the project’s site since changed.