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Reliable Service, Thriving Public Access Station Top Residents' Cable Priorities

Nov 20, 2014 10:29AM ● By Bill Gilman

From left, Tewksbury Selectmen Todd Johnson, David Gay and Jim Wentworth.

Reliable service, improved customer service and a thriving Public Access channel are among residents' top priorities when it comes to a new cable contract.
Several residents and a local business owner spoke before the Board of Selectmen Tuesday night at a public hearing regarding renewal of the town's contract with Comcast. Town officials are preparing to enter into negotiations with the cable giant on a new, long-term deal. The public hearing on Tuesday gave residents a chance to vent some grievances and make suggestions as to what concessions the town should be looking to get from Comcast in the new agreement.
Resident Robert Cusolito, who attended the hearing with his wife, spoke about losing his phone service after Comcast had upgraded his modem (at the company's suggestion) and the difficulty he encountered getting the problem addressed the fixed.
"A lot of my neighbors have switched to Verizon because of (Comcast's) poor customer service," said Cusolito.
Resident Leo Mazzucci said he loses his phone service during power outages, despite being promised by Comcast that wouldn't happen.
Selectman David Gay said he could relate to those complaints.
"I'm one of those who switched, years ago, to Verizon because I was dissatisfied with their service," he said.
Jayne Miller, Editor of the Town Crier, talked about an interview show she hosts on Wilmington Public Access, highlighting some of the possibilities that would come with a fully functioning Public Access station.
Selectman Jim Wentworth said he had seen some of Miller's shows and was envious that Tewksbury could not offer its residents the same type of programming.
"I came away saying, 'Why not us?'" said Wentworth. "Why can't we have that capability so we can communicate with our residents better."
Wentworth added that a concern of his is that Comcast will agree to the improvements and then just pass the costs on to the customers in the form of higher rates.
The new Tewksbury High School includes a fully equipped video studio that could be used to headquarter Tewksbury Public Access and serve as a training and taping location for Public Access programming, according to Joe Dermody, who works in the high school IT Department and coordinates government and school broadcast programming.
However, a lack of staffing and needed infrastructure has limited the studio to status as a storage facility for the theater department.
Town officials acknowledge Tewksbury was shortchanged during the last round of contract negotiations with Comcast a decade ago. As a result, Tewksbury's programming capabilities on the PEG channels (Public Access, Education, Government) has lagged far behind its neighbors in Chelmsford, Billerica, Lowell, Dracut and Wilmington.
As pointed out by Board Chairman Todd Johnson, none of the current selectmen, nor Town Manager Richard Montuori, were in office at the time of those negotiations.
Johnson said he and the other selectmen have similar concerns and priorities regarding Comcast, which he estimates provides cable service to 60 percent of residents. He said he is committed to improving the quality of communications between town government and the public.
"The No. 1 priority in my opinion (is) to improve the quality of the infrastructure and the output of the public board meetings," said Johnson, acknowledging continued complaints about the sound quality of broadcasts of selectmen's meetings and the recent Annual Town Meeting.
Johnson also acknowledged the town has retained the services of an attorney who specializes in negotiations with cable companies.
Johnson said the open comment period regarding Comcast and new contract negotiations will continue through Dec. 2. Written comments and testimony can be submitted to the Board of Selectmen c/o the Temporary Town Hall, 464 Main St., Tewksbury, Mass. 01876.
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