Adelphia Troubles Worry Vineyard Customers
By JOSHUA SABATINI
The concerns of the more than 9,000 Vineyard subscribers to Adelphia cable and the six Island towns who last year signed a 10-year contract with the cable company have come to the forefront as the company faces possible bankruptcy and a potential buyout.
Adelphia Communications, the nation's sixth-largest cable operator, is reported to have misrepresented its annual earnings and number of subscribers. As the Securities and Exchange Commission and two federal grand juries investigate, the company's share price has dropped dramatically - by 99 per cent since mid-March.
Local subscribers are concerned that the company's financial troubles will adversely affect their cable service. Customers here are served by Adelphia's Plymouth system; the company has three customer-service agents and five technicians stationed on the Island. Some work on the Vineyard is contracted out.
Jill McDonald, Adelphia's area manager for Massachusetts and Connecticut, said the company's recent financial troubles should not affect service at all.
"We are focusing on the day-to-day operations we are bound to, regardless of the company's restructuring format," she said.
She does not rule out the possibility of layoffs, but said, "As the company is working hard to reduce costs, I do not foresee any front-line layoffs. The local level employees will be the last affected by cost reductions."
As for summer homeowners who come to the Island for the season expecting their cable to be hooked up, Mrs. McDonald said they will have no trouble. "We are still connecting people on the Island," she said. "We have already done the bulk of seasonal reconnecting."
On the local level, she said, Adelphia is focusing on the customer and will continue its usual service.
Last year, the Island towns signed a 10-year contract with Adelphia. As a part of the contract, the cable provider agreed to do a certain number of things for the Island community, from handing over five per cent of its gross earnings from Island subscribers to the Martha's Vineyard Community Television group, to wiring the towns' schools and libraries with free high-speed Internet service.
John S. Alley, chairman of the Island cable advisory committee, was part of the negotiating team for the most recent contract. He said Adelphia has met its obligations to date.
Adelphia has installed most of the Internet connections as promised, Mr. Alley said, and is hooking up municipal buildings for live feeds on the public access channels.
If Adelphia's Plymouth system is bought out by another company, Mr. Alley said, "the new owner will have to abide by the terms on the contract." He said transfer of ownership is addressed in the contract.
"As far as I know," said Mr. Alley, "the company's financial [problems] have not adversely impacted cable on the Island."
Denys Wortman is one of the directors of Martha's Vineyard Community Television, the nonprofit group that oversees three public-access channels and is about to set up a headquarters complete with telecommunications equipment. He said the group has already received $150,000 from the company.
He said Adelphia has to pay the group an additional $100,000 by July 1.
Mr. Wortman said he called Adelphia this week to check on the status of the payment and he was told he would receive it. He plans to hire a general manager for the group, but will wait until the money actually comes in.
As for the future of the company and the Island's contract, Mrs. McDonald said, "By all indications the contract will be met, but I couldn't guarantee anything."
Ted Maguire, Adelphia's government affairs manager for the region said, "As far as I am concerned, it's business as usual."