City Begins Comcast Negotiations in Earnest; Contract Expires in April

William Gould, chairman of the Haverhill Cable TV Advisory Committee. (WHAV News photograph.)

An HD channel for local programs, nearly $2 million for better production equipment and possibly switching the city’s internal data network away from Comcast are among the current areas of discussions between the city’s Cable TV Advisory Committee and the cable provider.

Ongoing negotiations shifted into high gear last week as Haverhill’s current 10-year license agreement with Comcast ends next April, said Chairman William Gould.

Attorney William H. Solomon represents Haverhill during negotiations with Comcast. (WHAV News photograph.)

City negotiator, attorney William H. Solomon of Stoneham, told Comcast he expects Haverhill’s next contract to be modeled after one recently adopted in Fairhaven. That contract, like other recent ones in the state, continue to call for three public access television channels; money for improved public access equipment; a percentage of gross subscriber revenues for public access; lines for returning video from remote locations; and other requirements.

Responding to complaints about poor quality video from local channels, the city is asking for at least one high definition channel. While Comcast typically does not provide HD for local channels, Solomon discovered they made an exception recently for Revere.

The city has also asked for $1.9 million for upgrading local channel equipment. That amount would add an average of 77 cents a month to subscriber cable bills.

Staking out an early bargaining position, Jay Somers, a Comcast negotiator, said the number of households using Comcast to watch television has dropped by 374 in the last year. He noted a trend toward people dropping cable TV in favor of Amazon, Hulu and other apps. A drop in subscribers could mean remaining viewers will pay more for the fees Comcast may be asked to pay.

“That, to me, is significant,” Somers said.

Solomon countered that Haverhill has proposed sharing the risk by accepting a half percent of Comcast’s local gross revenues plus capital money. However, he added, the city’s demographics ensure paying cable television customers well into the future. “Haverhill, sort of like Stoneham. Haverhill is going to be one of the last communities where there is a major shift,” he said.

Unlike some companies, he added, Comcast will continue to be around. “As cable companies go, it’s well run—as companies go. You know the last time I looked, Caldor and Zayre and Bradlees customer service was terrible.”

Costs for items being negotiated are passed on to Haverhill video subscribers through the Franchise Related Costs item on ratepayer bills. However, member Jonathan Campbell said any hikes would be small compared with Comcast’s own increases.

“Four dollars, compared to some of the other increases that have come from Comcast, is not a whole lot of money,” he said.

The company currently has 20,436 city subscribers.

Comcast has also proposed buying out the city’s institutional network, used for moving data between government offices. The buyout price would be used by the city to hire another vendor to provide the system.

The committee plans to meet again Oct. 1.