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Springfield will collect $980,000 from Comcast after an auditing firm found an underpayment of franchise fees.

Last year, Comcast paid more than $1.6 million to the city. Under federal law, municipalities can collect up to 5 percent of the gross receipts the provider takes in for offering that service within a designated area. The city of Springfield collects the maximum franchise fee amount.

In 2011, the city contracted with a private firm, Azavar, to audit all of its utilities, including its cable provider Comcast. Azavar determined Comcast was underpaying its share of franchise fees and spent the last couple of months negotiating a settlement with Comcast. Because Azavar worked on a contingency basis, it will get one-third of the settlement.

The city council must formally approve an ordinance that would accept the settlement. The ordinance is on the consent agenda for next week, meaning it most likely will be passed without discussion.

A Comcast spokesman said the company is close to reaching an agreement and could not offer additional details. However, a letter attached to the ordinance confirmed the details of the settlement.

"Both the City of Springfield and Comcast of Illinois/Indiana/Ohio, LLC deem it to be to their mutual benefit to resolve their differences regarding the franchise fee audit," wrote Matthew Summy, Comcast vice president of external affairs.

Comcast will pay the settlement within 30 days of the ordinance being passed, according to the letter.

Mayor Jim Langfelder has said Comcast's current collections are up to date and that billing errors have been corrected as Comcast was notified.

Now that the franchise fee audit is settled, Langfelder said the city would begin to negotiate a new contract with Comcast.

Comcast is operating on an expired contract and would like to return to having a 10-year contract, which it had in 2003. Since 2013, the city has been extending Comcast’s contract to be Springfield’s cable provider in two-year increments, according to Langfelder.

Langfelder said when he inquired about getting Comcast to offer Weatherscan, a channel that offers local weather information, on Channel 17 once again, he was told Comcast’s dropping Weatherscan in October of last year was a "national decision."

Because several city residents were upset by Comcast’s decision, he said the city is looking at ways to recreate Weatherscan using Public Education and Government Access (PEG) grants it receives from Comcast.

Contact Crystal Thomas: 788-1528, crystal.thomas@sj-r.com, twitter.com/crystalclear224.

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“It was a big advantage for the City to work with a company that only charges a contingency fee, because we did not know what results we would get when we started the project.” 
— Mayor Gary Graham, City of O'Fallon
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