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Detroit Sues Comcast Over Franchise

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The city of Detroit is suing Comcast Corp.’s local subsidiary, saying that a 2006 state law creating one statewide franchise for cable TV providers that applies to all local jurisdictions violates the constitutions of both the United States and the state of Michigan.

The suit was filed June 21 in federal district court in Detroit. Comcast has 20 days to respond.

The city is seeking to overturn Comcast’s current franchise agreement with the city and reinstate its 1985 franchise.

The city claims that the Federal Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 still controls its contractual relationships with Comcast, because under Article VI, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, “federal law is the supreme law of the United States and preempts all contrary state law.”

Also, the city argues, the 2006 law violates the state Constitution, because Article 7, Section 29 of that constitution gives cities, townships and villages “the exclusive authority to grant franchises” within the state.

In Michigan, the State Constitution delegates to the cities, townships and villages within the State, the exclusive authority to grant franchises. Const. 1963, Art. 7, § 29.

The city said that since imposing a new franchise agreement in April 2007, Comcast has violated the 1985 franchise by ceasing to provide free drops and service to municipal school buildings, failing to provide a data network for communication between city buildings, ceased making payments to support local public and educational programming, and closed local public and educational video studios and ceased providing mobile units, equipment, staff and maintenance.

The suit asks the court to overturn the 2006 state law and declare the 1985 franchise agreement still in effect.

Mary Beth Halprin, vice president for public relations and community affairs at Comcast, said the cable compay is “still in the process of reviewing the complaint. Our first impresion is that the city’s real issue is with the Uniform Local Franchise Act, which was enacted more than three years ago, and we as a company are in full complinance with that act. We have been meeting in good faith with the city to address issues they may have and we are still willing to address those concerns.”

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