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Commissioners prepare for cable agreement hearing

Prince Frederick, MD - A process that has been underway for over a year is headed for its next big step following a work session conducted Tuesday, Nov. 13 during the Calvert County Commissioners’ weekly meeting. The current board discussed the county’s Comcast Cable Franchise Agreement, which was established in 2001.
In a memo to the commissioners, Calvert County Government Department of Technology Services Director Joseph Klausner stated that in January 2017, the department contracted CBG Communications for the purpose of performing “an extensive needs assessment and assist in the development and negotiations for the new franchise. Since that time, citizens were surveyed, Comcast infrastructure in areas throughout the county was reviewed and public meetings were held. Over the past 10 months CBG, county staff and Comcast representatives have negotiated to develop [a] proposed agreement.”

According to Klausner, the key points of the proposed pact are “retention of the 15-homes-per-mile density requirement, expansion of the ability to provide local government and educational programming, specific system testing and reporting requirements and phasing out the local Comcast office.” The latter action wouldn’t occur at the earliest until fall of 2019. Should Comcast decide to close their Calvert office, they would need to notify customers and provide a new local payment location.

It was made clear during the work session that the agreement with Comcast only covers cable television. Department of Technology Services Deputy Director Kathleen O’Brien confirmed that the county commissioners could award as many cable franchises as they want.

“Many people believe it’s the commissioners who only want Comcast,” said Commissioner Pat Nutter [R – District 2] (pictured, above). “We have not closed the market to anyone.” Klausner pointed out that it is illegal for county government to prevent a competing cable provider from coming to the county. Any provider willing to service the county would have to be given terms similar to those Comcast has.
Klausner stated in his memo that the proposed agreement includes the use of public, educational and governmental (PEG) fees to support local programming and a modern production studio. “The county will receive franchise fees equal to five percent of the gross revenues derived from the operation of its cable system to provide cable service in the county,” Klausner stated.

It was noted in Klausner’s memo that a “side letter” has been offered to the county by Comcast for “other commitments,” including “a commitment to review and address, within the first six months of the agreement, the cable plant deficiencies identified during the needs assessment process; and agreement to provide a high definition channel for local access programming.” The side letter also includes the stipulations regarding the likely phasing out of the local office.

The controversial subject of providing cable service to Calvert’s low density areas was discussed at length. Commissioner Mike Hart [R-District 1] referred to it as a “screaming hot” topic. Klausner stated that Comcast has identified 26 areas in Calvert that do not meet the density requirements. Four of those areas may be eligible for building service at no additional costs. That could add approximately 55 homes to Comcast’s Calvert cable service territory.

Without a formal vote, the board members present gave staff the go-ahead to schedule a public hearing on the approval of the agreement.

The hearing will be held Tuesday, Nov. 27 at 10:30 a.m. as part of the commissioners' weekly meeting. Get more information on the hearing by clicking here.

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com

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