Issues aired at Comcast public hearing
Only eight citizens joined the Morgan County Commissioners and Comcast Franchise Committee members at a public hearing with Comcast last week at the courthouse.
The afternoon hearing followed the county commission’s regular meeting on Thursday, March 15.
Paul Combs, Comcast Director of Government and Community Affairs, responded to citizen’s questions and heard issues from members of the committee looking into renewing Comcast’s cable TV franchise agreement.
Commission President Stacy Dugan began the meeting by thanking committee chairman Jerry Berman and the other members of the committee for their work so far on the agreement.
Berman said the committee has made a concerted effort to understand the existing agreement that dates back to 1992 when a company called Telemedia was awarded the cable franchise.
Adelphia purchased the agreement from Telemedia and later Comcast bought Adelphia. Berman said there are about 1,000 Comcast customers in the county today.
Berman listed the franchise committee’s issues with Comcast.
“Can all our residents get cable TV? No,” Berman said.
There are currently 145 miles of TV cable in the county and the contract calls for Comcast to expand in areas where there are at least 15 houses per mile.
Comcast’s proposed contract calls for that number to change to 30 because according to Comcast, it is not economically feasible to expand into smaller communities.
Berman said the committee wants Comcast to look at the number of customers who want cable in a development rather than the density of homes to determine their “economic feasibility.”
Another issue is customer service. The county recently completed a survey on Comcast’s performance and found many people complained about customer service.
Berman said he would like to see complimentary accounts for schools, fire and rescue and police.
A final issue is the lack of availability of high definition and on-demand services in many areas of the county.
Berman also mentioned the possibility of a public access channel for the county.
Combs said he has spoken to Berman a number of times and they have identified 35 communities to look at for cable installation.
However, Comcast installed nearly five miles of cable in Cacapon South last summer but few homes signed up for TV service. “There were not many video customers in Cacapon South, just Internet customers,” Combs said.
He said when Comcast installed cable in the past, 90 to 100 percent of households signed up for the service. Now there is much more competition from satellite TV and Internet companies and the business model is changing.
Combs said Comcast would look at the number of homes per mile in the contract needed for expansion and the requested complimentary accounts.
Customer web survey
Information Technology Director Dave McDonald presented the results of the recent survey of Comcast customers.
There were 73 responses to the survey. Of that number 68.5 percent or 50 people said they were current Comcast customers. Twenty people said they had experienced unreasonable outages, 21 people said Comcast does not keep them informed about changes and 16 people who called about getting cable service were told that no service was available.
McDonald said of the comments collected regarding customer service, 20 were negative and five positive.
Combs said last year they handled over 100 service calls but there were only two complaints to the Public Service Commission.
“We are in the customer service business. Happy customers are what we want,” he said.
Anne Beckley, representing the Coolfont Mountainside Association, said the community has 115 homes and a third have expressed interest in Comcast cable TV service.
Because many homes are near ridges or in hollows and with all the trees it is almost impossible to get satellite TV service, she said.
“When I travel to third world countries I have better service,” Beckley said. About 40 percent of homes have no TV service, she said.
Combs said Comcast is looking at the community but there are less than 15 homes per mile. He also said there are few telephone poles on which to place cable and the terrain is rocky making laying cable underground very expensive.
Beckley gave a map to Combs showing the location of homes that expressed an interest in the service.
Jeanne Mozier said if there was a public access channel, the Ice House would be interested in a studio and producing TV shows. Mozier suggested Comcast should start thinking “outside the box” in order to provide more content to more customers.
Dawn White said she has no TV service now but would be interested in watching only a few channels. “I wouldn’t mind paying for what I use,” she said.
Dugan said the two televisions in her house don’t receive the same channels.
Combs said with the changeover to digital there have been several different generations of set top boxes and that Dugan’s may not be the most up to date. He suggested a technician look at the boxes.
Berman said he would like to see more on-demand content and combination services including TV, streaming video, telephone and Internet.
“We have to look at ways of getting service to communities like Coolfont,” he said.
Committee member Kris Domich said he looks at Comcast as a content delivery company and not strictly a cable TV company.
He asked Combs if Comcast has looked at the possibility of a modernized plant that could deliver services on-demand and would that change the economic feasibility in regard to the 15 homes per cable mile in other parts of the county.
“That is a very good question. We always look at ways to work on the payback,” Combs said. He mentioned that new digital compression technology would make those services possible in the future.
Dugan closed the meeting by suggesting Comcast update the county commission on progress on a yearly basis.
Comcast and the county’s franchise committee will continue to work on ironing out a contract. The current contract is up in May.