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South Washington County finally has second cable TV provider

Cable TV subscribers in south Washington County now have an alternative to Comcast.

CenturyLink has been given the green light to provide their Prism TV service to select homes in Cottage Grove, Woodbury, Newport, St. Paul Park and Grey Cloud Island Township. Service to select homes could begin at the end of the month.

The South Washington County Cable Commission approved a five-year franchise for CenturyLink at its Feb. 11 meeting at Cottage Grove City Hall. All five cities have representation on the commission.

The 8-0 vote effectively ended Comcast’s decades long reign as the default cable provider in the region.

“This has been a process over 18 months,” commission chair Craig Johnson said. “It’ll be a competitive environment for the first time. Both companies will be working to provide better service at better value.”

The Louisiana-based CenturyLink designed Prism TV to compete directly with Comcast’s Xfinity TV as well as other cable, satellite and Internet delivery systems. They established a franchise in Minneapolis last year and have expanded to St. Paul, Little Canada, Roseville, Coon Rapids, and other cities.

Patrick Haggerty, director of government relations for CenturyLink, would not say how many customers they hoped to sign up in south Washington County, but terms of the franchise require them to service a minimum of 15 percent of homes in the member cities.

Cottage Grove City Council member Dave Thiede, who also serves on the cable commission, said it can only help having another cable service provider in the neighborhood.

“I think that it’s always good to get some competition into the mix,” he said. “You get a combination of improved service and reduced cost.”

Prism TV is a form of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV). The video signal is delivered from a local central office to homes using fiber cable or a mix of fiber and copper. Each home must have an internet speed of at least 25 megabytes per second to get Prism TV.

For Mike Bradley, an attorney at Bradley Hagen & Gullikson in Woodbury, the vote was the conclusion of franchise negotiations that began in January 2015. He credited commission administrator Fran Hemmesch for getting south Washington County “to the front of the line,” in CenturyLink’s expansion of Prism TV in the Twin Cities.

“When we heard that centurylink was coming to town, Fran and I got on the phone talked to each other and Fran wanted to set up a meeting right away with CenturyLink,” he said. “They only have a limited amount of money to lay fiber, and we would rather see them make the investment in Woodbury than Eagan.”

The new franchise will mean more revenue for the cable commission, since CenturyLink will pay the same standard franchise fee — 5 percent of gross revenue from local subscribers — as Comcast.

CenturyLink now has commission approval for franchises in more than 30 cities. Their respective cable commissions will now be able to share their local public, educational or government programming through CenturyLink’s Twin Cities Metro PEG Interconnect.

For example, Bradley said, if Woodbury High School has an away hockey game at Roseville, the South Washington County Cable Commission won’t have to send someone to cover it. Instead, they can pull the live feed from their cable counterpart in Roseville and put it on their own channel.

“There’s no duplication of efforts there,” Bradley said.

Prism TV is controlled by a wireless set top box that eliminates the need for a cable connection.

Its Whole Home DVR feature lets users watch and record multiple shows at once in different parts of the house. Prism TV on the Go lets users watch shows on their mobile device, while a multi-view function allows them to watch up to four shows at once or access an app directly from their television. Channel surfing speed is also greatly accelerated.

Residents can find out if their homes are eliigible by visiting centurylink.com/prismtv and clicking on the green tab “Check for Prism TV in my area.” They’ll be directed to type in their address.

Customers who are not eligible for Prism TV service can subscribe to DirecTV through CenturyLink and save $5 per month for bundling the service with their home phone or high-speed Internet service. They can also call 1-800-475-7526.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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