Final speaker Jim Lescault, Director of Amherst Media, addresses Amherst Select Board
The Amherst Select Board and Cable Advisory Committee hosted their first of two "Cable Ascertainment Hearings" last night with the second one scheduled for Wednesday September 30 at the Bangs Community Center at 11:30 AM.
The Select Board voted to adjourn their meeting after hearing an hour-and-a-half of testimony but they kept the public hearing on all things cable open until their October 5th routine Monday night meeting so citizens have plenty of time to provide them with written comments.
The ten-year contract with Comcast expires in October, 2016 and Federal law requires two public hearings as part of the Request For Proposals targeted to Comcast. Rates and programming are off the table as is anything related to Internet or phone service.
Cable Advisory Chair Kris Pacunas: These public hearings are "The most important tool for our committee."
A couple dozen citizens showed up, many of them associated with Amherst Media to champion our local cable assess entity that operates channels 12,15, and 17 -- aka, the local government beat.
Amherst School Committee member Vira Douangmay: "Amherst Media is important for our Democracy. People freak out when School Committee meeting are not televised."
Amherst Media is funded by a 5% cut of Comcast's overall Amherst revenues ($6.5 million) from its 7,000 subscribers, which came to $317,000 last year.
And once every 10 years a "technology upgrade" capital expense for new equipment, which came to $450,000 ten years ago.
But more than a majority of the audience came to complain about various service issues with Comcast -- either billing, quality of product or just overall customer service.
Wendy Jones Boisseau: I own a house on Pulpit Hill Road that's hard to rent because Comcast wanted $8,000 to install cable/internet service.
Staff liaison and town I.T. Director Sean Hannon said the Comcast fiber optic access is "very valuable," but the equipment used by Amherst Media is "very old and should be replaced."
The Cable Advisory Committee will come up with a ten year contract proposal that must first be approved by the Town Manager and then final approval rests with the Amherst Select Board.
Of course if you the customer don't like the final contract, the alternatives are pretty slim. All the more reason to make your voice heard NOW.