Notices on the city’s official website tend to be…bland. And really, you can’t expect the mouthpiece of a municipal government to be anything else.
Every once in a while, though, a little bit of spice gets into the curry. Take this post, about a seven per cent “city license fee” some Comcast customers are seeing on their bill. Residents have apparently been asking what this fee is. The city’s response is clear: ask Comcast.
From that post:
Companies can charge customers a line item for other costs of doing business, such as:
-Business license fees
Decisions on charging customers for these and other costs of doing business are up to the company.
That’s a passive aggressive statement for the city to be making, even if the post itself goes out of its way to avoid saying the word “Comcast.” I’m not a Comcast customer myself, happily, but a few of our readers confirmed they have in fact see this price increase on their bills.
So what’s the story here? Comcast hasn’t officially put out a statement, but it’s a fair bet this is in response to Resolution 2612, passed by Hillsboro’s City Council back in December. This resolution doubled the utility fee paid by communications companies to access the city’s right-of-way—that fee was 3.5 per cent and is now seven per cent.
City officials at time stated the new rate seven per cent is in line with what’s charged by nearby cities, and also argued the previous fee structure wasn’t keeping up with costs. The increase was projected to raise $480,000 of new revenue.
Representatives from Comcast and Verizon expressed their displeasure during that meeting’s public hearing, but it wasn’t enough.
The policy passed 4-2 in a rare split vote. Outgoing councillor Darell Lumaco voted for the increase, alongside Olivia Alcaire, Kyle Allen, and Anthony Martin. Fred Nachtigal and Rick Van Beveren voted against, with Nachtigal arguing that companies were not given enough warning about the change. Mayor Steve Callaway, who only votes in the event of a tie, was not present at that meeting.
So this is just a simple matter of Comcast handing off the cost of this new fee to consumers, right? Not exactly. Remember: this isn’t an entirely new fee. The 3.5 per cent fee existed before, and Comcast didn’t include it on customer’s bills until now. So at least half of this new line item, so far as I can tell, is Comcast raising the price for internet access and blaming the city for it.
Most residents of the city don’t have any choice when it comes to broadband providers, so they’ll pay up. But Comcast gets to rhetorically avoid the blame by pointing at the city, even though a big chunk of the fee in question was there before any policy change. Whether you think that’s fair probably depends on your political philosophy, but I can understand why the city felt the need to respond the way they did.
Crap like this is also a good reminder of why I can’t wait for municipal broadband to introduce some much needed competition, though I do worry this is just step one in Comcast’s broader fight against that effort.
Grab a hold of something. This could get interesting.
- Packet for the December 4 2018 meeting. Relevant bit starts on page 53.
- Mayor Steve Callaway on why the city statement avoids saying the word “Comcast”:
Image credit: Mike Mozart