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Comcast merges local offices.

Byline: Saul Hubbard The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - City officials won't challenge Comcast's decision to close its only customer service center in Springfield, despite a clause in the city's franchise agreement with the cable giant that states that Comcast "shall maintain an office in the city of Eugene and the city of Springfield."

Len Goodwin, Springfield's assistant public works director whose responsibilities include managing the franchise agreement, said after reviewing the contract with the city attorney, there was "ambiguity" as to whether that language required two separate offices or a single office in one of the two communities.

In a Jan. 11 memo to the City Council, Goodwin said the city agrees with Comcast's interpretation that only one service center is required.

Comcast closed its leased location in Springfield's Gateway Mall on Saturday, leaving a single customer service center on Chad Drive in Eugene to serve the Eugene-Springfield metropolitan area.

Meanwhile, the Springfield City Council today will vote on whether to accept a $75,000 one-time grant from Comcast to pay for new video equipment for the library meeting room in City Hall, the emergency operations center in the Justice Center and the Richard Wildish Theater. Goodwin said the new equipment would allow public meetings and performances that occur in those buildings to be broadcast live on the "Public, Educational and Government" channels, which Comcast provides in its cable package.

In a letter explaining the grant dated Jan. 9, Comcast spokesman Sanford Inouye wrote: "Comcast is appreciative of our long-standing relationship with the city of Springfield; in particular, we appreciate working with Len Goodwin, who has at all times been professional and courteous in our activities with the city."

Goodwin said the city's need for the video equipment "came up during a discussion with Sanford (Inouye)" about Comcast wanting to close the Gateway service center.

Asked if he considered the city's approval of the closure a trade-off for the video grant, Goodwin said no.

"I don't consider it that way, but I can see how some people might consider it a tradeoff," he said. "It's one of those things that's in the eye of the beholder."

Comcast is the sole cable provider in Eugene and Springfield. Springfield's franchise agreement with Comcast runs through 2018 and allows the city to receive 5 percent of the company's gross revenues in the Springfield area.

Comcast spokesman Inouye in a November letter to city officials called the Gateway customer service location "obsolete," citing its proximity to the Chad Drive location. The two centers are just over 2 miles apart.

Inouye's letter states that the Springfield location averages fewer than 65 customer transactions a day while the Eugene location has 270 or more transactions daily. The letter notes that Comcast will maintain an equipment drop-box at Albertson's on Main Street and that cable bills can also be paid at several Western Union locations in Springfield.

From his visits to the Gateway Comcast location, Goodwin said he agrees with Inouye's assessment that it is under-used.

"Given how close the facilities are, I don't think it will be a disadvantage to the people of Springfield," he said. "If the (Comcast) site was out somewhere on West 11th Avenue (in Eugene), it might be a different situation."

Goodwin also said that most cable customers use the phone or the internet to pay their bills or get customer service.

Asked what would have occurred if the city challenged Comcast's store-closure request, Goodwin said that Comcast would most likely have needed to start litigation. "But I don't think it would have got to that stage," he said.

Comcast spokesman Katie Maloney said the Gateway staff - the equivalent of 3 full-time employees - will continue to work for the company at the Chad Drive center.

Goodwin said he thinks the new arrangement will work well for Springfield residents.

"I think they would say, 'Wow, you got great value for a facility that isn't really serving the community,' " he said.

For the first time, Comcast raised its rates in Oregon twice in 2011: the cost of a standard monthly television package increased by just over 5 percent last January and by 4.8 percent last November. No rate increases have been announced for 2012.

Comcast's revenues jumped by almost 5 percent during the third quarter of the 2011 fiscal year, the most recent financial data available, from $13.7 billion in 2010 to $14.3 billion in 2011.


Council will vote on Comcast grant at meeting tonight

When/where: 6 p.m., Jesse Maine Room, City Hall, 225 Fifth St.

More information: 541-726-3700
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Title Annotation:Local News; Springfield officials decide not to challenge the move of workers to the company's Eugene office
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 17, 2012
Previous Article:A STRONGER SPAN.
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