Calvert Department of Technology Services Director Joseph Klausner, right, foreground; presents a summary of the county’s proposed new contract with Comcast for cable television service. To Klausner’s left is attorney Dan Cohen of the Cohen Law Group, a Pittsburgh-based firm that negotiated the proposed pact.
Prince Frederick, MD – A vote on a new 10-year contract for the Comcast Cable Franchise Agreement in Calvert County should be taking place in early December following a mandatory public hearing on the proposed pact. The hearing was held Tuesday, Nov. 27 during the Calvert County Commissioners’ weekly meeting. “Work to develop a new franchise has been underway since 2017,” stated Department of Technology Services Director Joseph Klausner in a memo to the board. “The efforts have included a comprehensive needs assessment, system evaluation, public meeting and negotiations.”
Klausner noted the “key improvements” of the new pact, which include “greater clarity regarding system maintenance, explicit reporting requirements, explicit customer services standards, a comprehensive definition of gross revenues to be calculated into franchise fee payments, an increase in the standard installation from 125 feet to 300 feet and agreement to provide a high definition local access channel.”
Additionally, the new agreement creates a $.72 fee to support local access programming. The Public, Education and Government (PEG) fees will be levied to support local programing and a “modern production studio,” Klausner stated.
“I was pleased with the result of that negotiation,” said Commissioners’ President Evan K. Slaughenhoupt Jr. [R-District 3] of the process that led to the drafting of a proposed contract. The board president noted the pact does not address the issues of broadband or Internet access, the county cannot regulate cable rates and Comcast does not have an exclusive in Calvert.
During the public comment portion of the hearing, representatives of local nonprofits praised Comcast for its community involvement. Michelle Hackett of The Arc of Southern Maryland spoke about a “partnership” between the entities, which resulted in her agency receiving a $15,000 grant used to establish a technology laboratory. “The Comcast Lab,” said Hackett, helps individuals with disabilities obtain employment and even receive an education. “Comcast continues to support us,” Hackett said.
“They [Comcast] give back financially to numerous nonprofits,” said United Way of Calvert County CEO Kelly Chambers, who called the company “a great community partner.”
“Comcast is a viable community partner for our children,” Joy Hill Whitaker of Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Maryland. “I can always count on them to come through.”
“Comcast is extremely active in the community,” said Calvert County Chamber of Commerce President Bob Carpenter, who recalled the cable provider’s involvement in such efforts as North Beach’s annual Plant the Town. “They are good for citizens and my members.”
Not everyone who spoke at the hearing was pleased. Ron Nahas of Huntingtown said channels some customers don’t want are “shoved down their throats” due to the company’s rate structure. Nahas also suggested Comcast give customers the option to purchase converters rather than have to rent them on a monthly basis.
Southern Maryland Association of Realtors’ Government Affairs Director Teresa Kuhns said although it was not a component of the franchise agreement, “broadband” service needed to be part of the conversation going forward. “Calvert County does have a broadband issue,” said Kuhns, adding that the lack of access for all residences impacts the competitive home values when compared to the better-connected adjacent jurisdictions. Regarding the touted contract enhancements, Kuhns stated, “Calvert County needs a little bit more than this. Is 15 homes per mile the lowest we can go?” Kuhns said Calvert’s leaders need to follow the advice of technology experts and put out requests for proposals from Internet service providers.
Commissioner Pat Nutter [R-District 2] shared some of his frustrations as a Comcast customer regarding the likely closure of the company’s Calvert office. While Nutter agreed monthly bill collection didn’t need to be handled through a local Comcast office, replacement of faulty equipment will create inconvenience. “There are still some questions to be answered,” said Nutter towards the end of the hearing.
“I’m a big picture guy,” said Commissioner Mike Hart [R-District 3]. “I hope people don’t think this is the final door.
The commissioners voted unanimously to keep the record open for 10 days and make a final decision on the contract Tuesday, Dec. 11.
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