The committee negotiating cable television service for the six Island towns signed off Wednesday morning on a draft contract for the next 10 years.
The contract, which now must be ratified by individual towns, includes expanded service to underserved areas, a senior discount and $620,000 in capital funding for the Island public television station MVTV. Service to Chappaquiddick, a central sticking point in the negotiations, is included in the new franchise agreement, although it will come at a cost to Chappy residents.
Chappaquiddick subscribers will have to pay a one-time fee of $2,140 and commit to a year-round subscription for two years. After two years, customers can revert to a seasonal plan. Customers may be required to pay additiona
l construction fees depending on the distance of their home from the main conduit.
At least 270 homes, half the number of homes on Chappy, must subscribe by the end of the year in order for the service to go into effect. Customers must sign up for a cable package in order to receive internet service.
Edgartown town administrator Pam Dolby said she felt it was the best deal the town could get.
“Is everyone going to love it? No, but I think a lot of people are going to be happy with it,” Mrs. Dolby said. “I think we’ve done the best we can. We have service, we have a schedule, we have a price. When this started out they weren’t going to touch Chappy, they had no interest at all.”
Reached by telephone Wednesday, Chappaquiddick Island Association president Roger Becker said he was “very pessimistic” about reaching the required 50 per cent household requirement.
“I have been from the start,” he said. “I thought even if it was free it would be a stretch.”
At a potluck supper at the Chappaquiddick Community Center Wednesday night, Mr. Becker said he found that most residents he spoke to had little interest in signing up for service.
“If this . . . is any indication, I’d say we won’t be seeing Comcast on Chappy,” he wrote in an email to the Gazette Thursday morning. “Some comments included, ‘I can’t afford $2,000’ and one neighbor said that Comcast probably expects the low interest and is not worried about having to cable Chappy.”
“It is hard to guess how the seasonal property owners might react,” he wrote.“I think it will take a while and a lot of sharpened pencils before people really know what to do. A special rate of bundled services could change the entire equation.”
The cable advisory committee met in the Edgartown town hall Wednesday morning to review the final details of the draft contract. “It’s been a marathon,” committee chairman and West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand said. “It’s astonishing how hard this has been.”
She said she expects a final contract to be signed in the next 30 days.
The committee has been negotiating with Comcast since June 2011, when the previous contract expired. The cable advisory committee is made up of representatives from each town.
Six separate contracts for each town will now be drafted. Ms. Rand, who is the West Tisbury town administrator, said a draft contract for her town is expected to be ready by the beginning of next week.
MVTV will receive a total of $620,000, $120,000 of which will come from unused funds from the previous agreement. The money will be paid out over three years. Comcast gives the money to MVTV, which in turn divides it among the towns. An additional $50,000 will go toward buildout on Chappaquiddick, leaving MVTV with a total of $300,000 in capital funding.
Service to Chappaquiddick would be funded from a combination of subscriber fees, the town of Edgartown and Comcast. The town will contribute $131,000 toward construction from its share of its MVTV funds. Comcast will contribute $1,400 per subscriber.
Comcast estimates construction will cost $1.58 million.
Other details of the contract include a 10 per cent senior discount, an emergency alert override system, and a fourth public access channel for MVTV, all new provisions.
MVTV will also continue to receive five per cent of Comcast’s gross annual revenue, funded through subscriber fees.
MVTV board chairman Anne Lemenager was generally positive about the draft contract as it relates to the community station.
“The good news is we’re nearing the end of this marathon session of negotiations,” she said. MVTV is building a new facility on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.
“A lot of our finishing touches on our building project have been in a holding pattern as far as planning goes,” she said. “We’d like to support the project but at some point we don’t want to compromise our mission to the entire island of Martha’s Vineyard.”
At the Wednesday meeting Ms. Rand said she recently sent a six-month bill from the committee’s attorney Bill Solomon to the towns totaling $14,000. Mrs. Dolby said the committee should consider asking Edgartown to pay a larger share due to the issue of Chappaquiddick consuming more of the attorney’s time.
“It’s only fair,” she said. “Edgartown needs to pay its fair share . . . I appreciate how everyone has backed Chappaquiddick and we’ve stuck together to get service.”
“These folks did a great job of putting this together,” Tisbury representative Fred LaPiana concluded.