Comcast cable and internet customers in Franklin and Moore Counties may lose their service if a dispute between Comcast and Duck River Electric Membership Corporation over utility poles isn't soon settled.
According to Duck River Electric officials, Comcast is delinquent on its pole usage fees for the second time in as many years. And the co-op is threatening to pull the plug on Comcast and remove its equipment from the co-op's utility poles if the cable and internet provider doesn't pay up — late fees included — by Friday.
Duck River Electric Membership Corporation owns the utility poles and leases space on them to a variety of users, including Comcast competitors.
In 2014, Comcast and the local co-op went through a similar spat over pole fees, which ended with Comcast paying what Duck River Electric requested but never entering into a new long-term contract for pole usage.
This time around, Comcast officials say they are paying the pole rent, "despite (Duck Town's) refusal to negotiate reasonable terms."
Sara Jo Walker, regional director of communications for Comcast, said in a statement Monday the cable and internet provider is "disappointed that Duck River has resorted to public threats to extract pole rent of more than three times the national average, while privately rejecting our proposal to invest an additional half a million dollars in expanding broadband in Franklin and Moore Counties."
Steve Oden, director of member services at Duck River Electric, said the co-op's pole fees aren't exorbitant — at least, "the rest of the attachers on our system apparently don't think so."
He said the co-op does not have annual fee problems with other "attachers," or services leasing space on Duck River poles. He would not disclose the amount Duck River says Comcast owes, other than "it's not an insignificant amount to us."
Oden also said "we thought we resolved it in 2014," after the first pole fee fight between Duck River and Comcast.
"I can't explain why it happened again," Oden said. "We're really sort of amazed."
Oden said Monday that Comcast acknowledges now the money it owes Duck River in annual pole leasing fees, and he hopes for a resolution by the end of the week.
"It appears we may be able to avoid this," he said.
But if not, Oden said Duck River Electric is prepared to physically remove Comcast equipment from co-op-owned poles and disconnect the TV and internet provider's power supplies.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6480.