For the first time, Comcast will face competition in the Twin Cities suburbs.
Seven west-suburban cities — including St. Louis Park, Bloomington and Edina — are rapidly moving toward approval of cable franchises for CenturyLink. Their decision to open up competition will affect tens of thousands of households and potentially could drive down rates for cable TV and Internet service.
Minneapolis is the only metro-area city whose residents have more than one option for cable TV and Internet service. But CenturyLink is in the midst of an aggressive expansion, with franchise applications underway in St. Paul as well as in many other Twin Cities suburbs.
St. Louis Park is set to be the first western suburb to give its blessing to cable competition.
The City Council this week tentatively approved a five-year franchise agreement with CenturyLink and is expected to give final approval at its next meeting on Nov. 16.
“It’s really about trying to offer our residents some choices when it comes to their television and Internet access,” said Council Member Jake Spano. “It’s our hope that this will help bring down prices.”
Bloomington has a public hearing on its CenturyLink franchise set for Nov. 16.
Meanwhile, the Southwest Suburban Cable Commission (SWSCC) — a group that includes Eden Prairie, Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Richfield — has recommended that its members grant cable franchises to CenturyLink.
The reason there’s been no cable competition in the western suburbs for more than 30 years is simple: Nobody ever asked, said Brian Grogan, a Minneapolis attorney who advises the SWSCC.
“The cities have never closed the door to competition,” Grogan said. “They’ve been anxiously awaiting someone to come in.”
Prism service by end of year
Most consumers won’t be able to get CenturyLink service immediately. But the company plans to move quickly with its build out, said Tyler Middleton, CenturyLink’s vice president of operations for Minnesota.
Some customers will be able to receive the company’s Prism TV offering within weeks of franchise approval in their cities, Middleton said. By the end of the year, about 250,000 households will be able to receive Prism, assuming their city has signed a franchise agreement.
CenturyLink already has enabled more than 100,000 households to receive 1-gigabit Internet service.
Comcast isn’t worried
For Comcast, the arrival of CenturyLink is just one more competitor added to a list that includes satellite TV services and such online video providers as Hulu and Netflix.
“We do business in a competitive market every single day,” said Comcast spokeswoman Jill Hornbacher. “We absolutely appreciate the fact that consumers have a wide variety of options to choose from.”
Hornbacher said that Comcast recently doubled Internet speeds at no cost for all of its Twin Cities customers and that it offered an additional speed increase for customers using bundled packages. Plans are in place to offer an option for 2-gigabit fiber-optic lines to the home.
“For Comcast, we’re committed to making sure we’re always providing the latest and best products our consumers want,” Hornbacher said.