Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Nearly a year after approving negotiations with a broadband company looking to establish a presence in Missoula, the City Council on Wednesday approved the cable franchise outlining the deal.

TDS Telecommunications plans to build an all-fiber network in Missoula and Lolo. Once established, it will compete with the city's current and only cable provider in Charter.

“Usually, consumers win when there's competition and they're both striving to provide the best product,” said Brian Grogan, a technology lawyer with Moss & Barnett. “It generally results in better service and more competitive prices. It's a good thing when we have more than one choice for a quasi-utility like cable television or broadband service.”

Under the terms of the franchise agreement, which is good for 10 years, TDS will pay a 5% franchise fee to the city. It will also pay 1.5% of its gross revenue for local programming – funding that supports Missoula Community Access Television and the City Council's streaming platform.

Grogan said the 5% franchise fee is all the law permits.

“They'll only pay the fee based on cable television. That's as much as the law allows us to impose on the company. We're not permitted by federal law to charge them a fee for broadband or their other services,” Grogan said.

TDS plans to connect more than 35,000 homes and businesses in the greater Missoula area to its fiber network. The company will also provide all-digital TV services, TV+ and a variety of phone options.

The Wisconsin-based company is currently building a fiber network in Billings and has announced plans to do the same in Helena and Great Falls. The contract in Missoula is based upon the same contract provided to Charter, which is still being negotiated.

“Their existing contract (Charter) dates back to 2003 and is over 20 years old,” Grogan said. “Cable television has changed a bit over the past 20 years, and a lot of changes are still going on with streaming services and new applications. This franchise tries to reflect some of the new laws in today and the competitive atmosphere cable television is now offered on.”

City attorney Jim Nugent said negotiations with Charter continue.

“These franchises are often quite lengthy and require a lot of negotiation,” Nugent said. “We have one other with Charter that's still under negotiation. But hopefully soon we'll have the Charter franchise as well.”