Cable operators must have a cable franchise agreement to use the public right-of-way to conduct business. Federal law provides for a number of specific benefit options to be included in a cable franchise agreement in response to community need.

Public Right-of-Way: A Space for the Public and Commerce

The public right-of-way is the land from sidewalk to sidewalk; above, below and on the surface of our streets. This is where utilities like water, gas, electricity, and communications are run throughout the City, and how we all get around by foot, bike, or vehicle. All of this land is owned by the public, and the City manages the right-of-way on the public’s behalf.

The right-of-way is also a place for commerce. Utilities like water, gas, electricity, cable, and wireless service providers all use the right-of-way. It’s a necessary component of their business. This is where they install equipment like pipes, cables, utility poles, antennas, and other technology.

Businesses pay to access and use the public right-of-way in the same way they pay for other necessary business expenses. The funds received by the City are combined with other sources of revenue, like taxes, and are used to fund a number of public services, including: maintenance of the roadways and sidewalks, police, fire, parks, and other services relied upon by the community.

For an informative video on the Public Right-of-Way click this link:

How Do Businesses Get Permission to Use the Right-of-Way?

A business must apply for and obtain a franchise agreement or license from the City before it can have access to the right-of-way.

Similar to applying for an apartment or any other long-term rent of a space, the right-of-way application process ensures that the business: 1) understands its responsibilities as a member of the community, 2) agrees to abide by the laws and regulations regarding uses of the right-of-way, 3) agrees to make regular payments in exchange for use of the right-of-way, and 4) has the capacity to keep the promises it makes to its customers.

Unlike an apartment or other long-term rent of a space, the franchise or license also requires the business to abide by specific customer service standards that may include things like: limits on how long a customer is kept on hold, or a requirement to maintain local offices where customers can obtain support, exchange equipment, or pay their bill.

How is a Cable Franchise Agreement Different from Other Utility Agreements?

Cable franchise agreements are governed by a unique set of laws and rules established at the Federal level in 1984 and updated in 1996. These rules were written to recognize the important role cable communications networks play in our society, and to establish a set of requirements, including certain public benefits, that cable providers must make available if the local community indicates that it is needed.

The Federal guidelines set limits on how much a cable provider is required to pay for access to the public right-of-way to deliver its cable services and indicate the type of public benefit resources it may be asked to provide to the community. Since the nature of the payments and public benefit needs differ from community to community, these agreements are negotiated at the local government level.

The Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission (MHCRC) is an example of how municipalities can collaborate to share resources for the negotiation, management, and administration of cable franchise agreements and resulting public benefits.

What are the Benefits from a Cable Franchise?

  • Franchise Fee – monetary payment to the Cities and County for use of the public right-of-way to provide cable services. Fees go into the general fund and support a variety of programs and services administered by the City or County
  • PEG Fee – monetary payment to the MHCRC to support capital costs, including purchase of communications technology, provided through the following programs:
    • Public, Education and Government (PEG) media centers which include:
      • MetroEast Community Media (PEG) – serving the cities of East Multnomah County with low/no cost access to media production training and equipment; gavel-to-gavel coverage of City Council and other municipal meetings; and distribution over dedicated cable channels
      • Open Signal: Portland Community Media Center (PG) – Serving Portland with low/no cost access to media production training and equipment; gavel-to-gavel coverage of City Council and other municipal meetings; and distribution over dedicated cable channels
      • Portland Public Schools & Portland Community College (E) – providing media production services to schools, coverage of school district meetings and events, and distribution over dedicated cable channels
    • Community Technology Grants Program. Provides technology funding to community organizations, nonprofits, libraries, schools, and government agencies for the creation of content to air on PEG channels
  • Franchise Oversight & Enforcement. The MHCRC ensures that the cable service providers are adhering to the requirements identified in the franchise agreement and are in alignment with applicable laws
  • Customer Complaint Escalation. The MHCRC assists customers who have had difficulty obtaining adequate support or resolution through the regular customer service system.
    • The MHCRC provides a phone number, email address, and online portal through which customers can obtain help in resolving their issues
    • The MHCRC tracks complaints that may indicate that the provider is out of compliance with requirements of the franchise or applicable laws
  • Customer Service Standards. The cable franchise agreement requires the cable provider to follow a set of standards designed to support customer needs. These include:
    • Local Offices
      • Accessible Service Center and Bill Payment locations
    • Telephone Answering Standards
      • Toll-free, 24/7 telephone access to customer service
      • Limits on telephone answer, transfer, and hold times (30 seconds) to be met no less than 90% of the time under normal operating conditions
    • Installations, Outages, and Service Calls
      • Standard installations performed within 7 business days
      • Service interruptions to be addressed within 24 hours, and work to address the interruption must begin no later than the next business day after notification
      • Installation of service will be either a specific appointment time, or at maximum a four-hour window; courtesy call if the cable operator representative is running late and will not be able to keep the appointment as scheduled
    • Notice Requirements
      • Cable operator will provide written information on each of the following areas at the time of service installation, annually to all subscribers, and at any time upon request:
        • Products and services offered
        • Prices and options for programming services; conditions of subscription to programming and other services
        • Installation and service maintenance policies
        • Instruction on how to use the cable service
        • Channel positions and programming carried on the system, and
        • Billing and complaint procedures including contact information for the MHCRC
      • Notices on changes in rates, programming services, or channel positions as soon as possible, and a minimum of 30 days in advance of the change if the change is within the control of the cable operator
    • Billing
      • Bills must be clear, concise, and understandable
      • Bills must be itemized and clearly delineate all activity during the billing period including optional charges, rebates, and credits
      • Refunds: shall be issued promptly and no later than the customer’s next billing cycle
      • Credits: shall be issued no later than the customer’s next billing cycle
  • Cable Services to Schools, Libraries and Municipalities. Connects schools, libraries, and municipalities to the cable network at very low/no cost