Comcast Sues Calif. City

Asserting that officials from the city of Walnut Creek, Calif., are "actively prohibiting Comcast [Corp.] from making technical upgrades" to the system there, the MSO struck back in a federal court Friday, seeking injunctive relief from city oversight.

The suit alleged that the city has tied permits for an upgrade from the 450-megahertz system to improper franchise-agreement concessions.

Walnut Creek is part of a consortium in Contra Costa County in the San Francisco Bay area that just recently reached an agreement in principle with Comcast to complete refranchises. Walnut Creek is the only city in the consortium that has not been upgraded due to the lack of permitting.

According to Comcast's suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Walnut Creek has refused to issue permits without a completed franchise. Comcast won't agree to a franchise because the city is asking for improper concessions, such as the construction of a separate, advanced telecommunications network for the city's use, in the guise of an institutional network, according to the company.

The city also seeks PEG-access (public, educational and government) support in excess of the 5% franchise-fee cap.

Because of the permitting delay, Comcast is unable to offer services such as expanded digital-TV offerings, high-speed data and HDTV, which would make it more competitive with rival companies ranging from Verizon Communications to Astound Broadband, a bundled-services provider.

Although Comcast officials believe they are close to closing franchise-agreement negotiations with the consortium, the MSO filed suit against Walnut Creek because it had "exhausted all other remedies" in its attempts to gain permits, according to a Comcast statement.

"We regret that this dispute has reached this point," the statement added.