Cable television customers on the Vineyard are guaranteed Comcast service for the next 10 years as a contract between the giant cable company and the six Island towns is now complete.
After two years of negotiations, the towns of West Tisbury, Oak Bluffs and Chilmark signed new franchise agreements with Comcast at their board of selectmen meetings this week. Edgartown, Tisbury and Aquinnah are expected to sign off early next week.
The contract includes service to underserved and previously unserved rural areas of the Vineyard, an Islandwide emergency alert override system and $620,000 in capital funding for the Island public television station MVTV. Service to Chappaquiddick, a longtime sticking point in the negotiations, is also included in the new agreement, although at a steep price to Chappy residents.
The new contract is set to expire in March 2023.
At the West Tisbury board of selectmen’s weekly meeting on Wednesday, town administrator and cable advisory committee chairman Jennifer Rand said she was happy with the end result.
“We have a contract,” she said. “All and all, it’s been a long haul. Our attorney has worked tirelessly and fortunately he loves what he does. Not everything is in it that we had hoped for, but here it is.”
The board of selectmen thanked Ms. Rand and the cable advisory board for their hard work.
The cable advisory board, the Islandwide group responsible for negotiating a new cable franchise agreement, has been in talks with the cable giant since June 2011, when the previous 10-year agreement expired. Since then negotiations have proceeded in fits and starts. Edgartown pulled out of negotiations in December 2011 after Comcast stalled on the issue of providing service to Chappaquiddick. Tisbury left the cable talks shortly thereafter to stand behind Edgartown. The Cape and Islands legislative delegation also jumped into the debate to press Comcast on the subject.
The contract includes a standardized installation formula to bring service to outlying areas. The cable system will be further extended to some areas in parts of towns that are not included in the formula, including service to Middle Line Road and Doctors Creek in Chilmark, as well as Chappaquiddick.
Comcast will pay the majority of buildout costs for the Middle Line Road affordable housing development, with the remaining $16,900 divided among all Chilmark subscribers.
Chappaquiddick service will be funded from a combination of subscriber fees, the town of Edgartown and Comcast. Subscribers will have to pay a one-time fee of $2,140 and commit to a year-round subscription. After two years, customers can change to a seasonal plan. Additional construction fees may apply depending on the distance of their home from the main conduit.
The town of Edgartown will contribute $131,000 toward construction from its share of its MVTV funds. Comcast will contribute $1,400 per subscriber. The cable company estimates it will cost $1.58 million to bring service to Chappy.
Comcast is requiring at least 270 homes, half the number of homes on Chappy, to subscribe by the end of the year in order for the new service to go into effect. Customers must sign up for a cable package in order to receive internet service, though that package can be as minimal as basic cable.
MVTV will continue to receive 5 per cent of the gross annual revenue Comcast earns from Island subscribers, collected via a surcharge on customer’s bills. Ms. Rand said the high percentage is unheard of in many other cable contracts.
“It’s huge that we maintained our five per cent support,” Ms. Rand said.
The public television station will receive a total of $620,000 in capital, $120,000 of which will come from the previous contract from unused funds. Much of that money, paid out over three years, will be used to fund station operations, as well as purchase new equipment and help pay for MVTV’s planned new facility. A portion of the money, $181,000, will go toward the build out on Chappaquiddick.
MVTV will also gain an additional public access channel in the future, totalling four public access channels. Ms. Rand said the fourth channel likely will be designated for arts and entertainment coverage.
Other details of the contract include a 10 per cent senior discount off of its basic cable service and a new emergency alert override system.
“The Island of Martha’s Vineyard will now have the ability to issue an emergency alert on the television,” Ms. Rand said. “Obviously there is a lot of work to be done in a cooperative fashion.”
Comcast will also maintain its customer service office at the airport business park.