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City and AT&T reach cable deal

Delegations from the city and AT&T Broadband hammered out a tentative deal Friday afternoon under which AT&T would take over the city’s cable television franchise from Northland Cable.

The deal gives the city what it wanted in substance, and AT&T was equally happy.

“We very much like what we came up with today,” said Janet Turpen, regional director of franchising for AT&T. “We think this community is a very good fit for us.”

The deal is subject to approval Wednesday by the Bainbridge Island City Council. Norm Wooldridge, councilman and member of the negotiating team, said he would recommend that the council “sign off on it.”

Turpen said no further levels of approval from AT&T are needed.

AT&T Broadband, the successor to TCI CableVision, made an unsolicited offer in November to buy Northland’s Bainbridge Island franchise for an unspecified sum of money.

That deal, which is contingent upon closing by Dec. 26, requires city approval of the franchise transfer that allows a cable provider to use local rights of way.

While city officials have expressed general enthusiasm for AT&T as opposed to the much smaller Northland, they wanted to make significant changes in the agreement under which Northland is operating, a contract that dates from 1970.

AT&T had demanded that the franchise be transferred “as is,” with negotiations on amendments to follow next year.

But after a special council meeting on Wednesday to gather more public input, the city put together a list of items to be resolved.

Principle issues were fees and taxes paid to the city, and the status of Bainbridge Island Broadcasting or another city-designated local-access provider.

The fee and tax issue was resolved Friday, as AT&T agreed to pay both a city utility tax and a franchise fee based on gross revenue. The definition of gross revenue was broad enough to encompass such sources as advertising sales and home shopping.

The agreement also says that AT&T will provide a channel for community-access programming. AT&T officials also said they would consider allowing BIB to use the studio at what is now the Northland office on High School Road.

Some remaining details will be negotiated after the sale is completed. The agreement does not address high-speed Internet access, Wooldridge said, but AT&T will launch an engineering study to determine feasibility.

“It doesn’t just come because you ask for it,” Wooldridge said, “but we want it, and they want it too.”

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