Missoula residents could soon have another choice in cable television if the city awards a franchise license to a Delaware company this November.

TDS Metrocom contacted the city earlier this year to begin the franchise process. The contract is pending approval by the full City Council and, if awarded, would allow TDS to compete directly with Charter.

“Historically, we've never had companies compete head to head with respect to the federal communications law,” said City Attorney Jim Nugent. “Years ago, there were three cable companies operating in Missoula, but they didn't compete head to head. This is going to be the first time you'll have direct competition with cable companies.”

TDS delivers high-speed Internet, television, phone service and entertainment in nearly 900 communities in 12 states across the country including Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Utah and Washington.

The company already has been granted franchise in Billings and Spokane.

“We are in the process of negotiating our franchise,” said Nugent. “TDS would like to get this wrapped up by the end of the calendar year so they can get going and start putting in their fiber.”

According to documents, TDS would construct an all-fiber system in Missoula. Once at the residential household, the signal will be delivered wirelessly to set-top boxes.

TDS estimates the cost of constructing the Missoula cable system at $46 million. It will likely take between 24 and 48 months to complete, possibly longer depending on conditions.

“They estimate it will take two to four years, or a fifth year depending on the geographic things they might run into, such as rock,” Nugent said.

He added, “We have to try and treat all cable TV providers equally. We can't add additional burdens onto TDS that would put them at a competitive disadvantage with respect to Charter.”

The city contracted a consultant to review TDS and all federal laws to help shape a franchise procedure in Missoula. The city and the company have met several times, and TDS has demonstrated its ability to fund, maintain and operate the system.

Charter is aware of TDS's intention to enter the market, Nugent said. The City Council will hold a hearing on Nov. 1 to authorize the city to finalize negotiations.

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