Franklin County negotiations for cable access move forward
DEERFIELD — Attorney William Solomon advised the four southern Franklin County towns to secure another 10-year cable contract with Comcast now before the Internet becomes the prevailing television provider.
Boards of Selectmen from Deerfield, Whately, Sunderland and Conway met to discuss the next steps in negotiations with the cable company, Comcast. The towns’ contract, made in 2006, is set to expire in 2015. According to the agreement, Comcast gives the towns money in public education government grants to create a public access television station — Frontier Community Access Television. In return, the selectmen allow the cable company to run its wires throughout the four towns.
The towns hope to secure another 10-year contract before television programmers drop cable and turn to the Internet to provide entertainment.
On Wednesday in Deerfield, the four towns held their first of many meetings on cable negotiations. Solomon, who negotiated the first contract, suggested beginning a new contract this year rather than waiting until 2015. He believes this will increase the odds of securing a deal.
“The world is changing,” Solomon said. “In some point in the future, there could be a transition toward Internet for TV. Cable companies will do whatever they can to prevent that, including convincing programmers not to sell programs to Internet providers.” Solomon told the four towns they need to give Comcast an incentive to renew the contract now. This incentive could simply be them working together as a team and offering Comcast bulk subscribers.
Conway poses a challenge for the four-town team. With only 335 subscribers and a two-year-old contract deal in place, the town is in its infancy when it comes to cable access. Part of the town’s original contract is to increase the number of subscribers to 400.
The four towns hope to expand the deal with Comcast to Conway. Whether Conway can be included remains a question.
“If Conway makes a commitment, I’m fighting for Conway. I don’t want them treated differently. We should get all the towns on the same cycle,” said Sunderland Selectman Thomas Fydenkevez.
There are roughly 3,910 cable subscribers in southern Franklin County.
Each town contributes a different amount to the FCAT budget depending on the number of cable subscribers in each town. The total fiscal year 2013 budget is $113,986.
With 1,750 subscribers, Deerfield contributes the most — a total of $46,975 per year. It also kicks in another $8,050 for FCAT to film its government meetings.
With 1,300 subscribers, Sunderland contributes $35,789. Whately has 525 cable subscribers. Whately’s portion of the budget is $14,234. Like Deerfield, it pays another $1,500 for FCAT to film its government meetings. This year, Conway will contribute $7,436.
This month’s meeting was only the start. Negotiations will take six weeks. By February, the towns will compile a list of existing buildings without connection and the number of subscribers. Sunderland also wants Comcast to get its wires to Bull Hill Road, the only road in town without access. A senior citizen discount — requested by Deerfield Selectman Carolyn Shores Ness — could also be on the table. The towns will also discuss the management of PEG Access or public, education and government television. To date, FCAT controls the public and educational portion, while the four towns control the government programming.