Comcast agrees to settlement in city suit

By J. PATRICK PEPPER
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Comcast recently reached a tentative settlement with four Michigan communities, including Dearborn, in a federal lawsuit that challenged the cable company’s plan to offer public, educational and government, or PEG, access channels to digital service customers only.

The settlement, which was disclosed in a Dec. 23 Federal Communications Commission filing, provides that Comcast will keep PEG channels available in analog format until the company makes digital service its basic package.

Additionally, the media conglomerate will pay $250,000 to Meridian Township, which already has agreed to the offer. Meridian officials have agreed to distribute the money among the other three involved communities – Dearborn, Bloomfield Township and Warren – when officials there formally approve of the settlement. The Dearborn City Council was expected to accept the offer at its regular meeting Jan. 4.

Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. called the settlement a “big” win for cities throughout Michigan.

“This settlement will allow some of our most vulnerable residents to maintain access to public programming, which many people rely on to get information about the city and the schools,” he said.

City attorneys filed the lawsuit in March 2008 amid concerns that the channel move could freeze out poor or low-income residents from accessing the public channels. Comcast had sought to move PEG channels into the 900-range, which is only available in the pricier digital-tier cable package. Currently, the channels are located in the 10 to 20 range and are available to basic cable subscribers. Comcast agreed to halt the move for at least two years, but eventually the company does plan to move to digital-only programming.

In a statement about the settlement, Comcast Vice President of Public Pelations Mary Beth Halprin said the company was happy to finally settle the matter.

“Comcast has worked diligently with the four communities to resolve the dispute, and we are pleased that an agreement in principle has been reached to end the litigation,” Halprin said. “That agreement will now work its way through the formal approval process of each of the communities.”

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