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Your Tewksbury Today

Town Manager: Cable Revenue Should Not Go Into General Fund

Apr 22, 2016 04:30PM ● By Bill Gilman

Selectman Jim Wentworth and Town Manager Richard Montuori.

There are many ways in which Tewksbury can compete successfully with its neighbors but public access television has not been one of them.
But that may change if voters approve an article at the upcoming Annual Town Meeting that would establish a Cable Enterprise Fund. According to Town Manager Richard Montuori, the fund would be funded by more than $400,000 a year in combined revenue the town receives from Comcast and Verizon under the terms of the contract with each of the cable providers.
"In the past, that revenue has gone into the general fund and been spent. That wasn't how it should have been handled," said Montuori.
Instead of being used on general town expenses, Montuori said the cable revenue should be used to enhance Tewksbury's local programming. This would include construction of a local cable TV studio that would be used to produce local programming and teach classes on video production so that residents can also produce shows.
Montuori recently finalized a new, 10-year contract with Comcast that will run through 2025. Under terms of the deal, Comcast will establish three local channels -- Public Access, Government and Education. To this point, Tewksbury has had just Education and Government and locally generated programming has been extremely limited due to lack of equipment and facilities.
The new deals calls for Comcast to pay the town 3.5 percent of its gross revenue from Tewksbury (up from 3.0 percent). The company will also pay the town another .25 percent for capital improvements (new equipment, etc.). Montuori said that should add up to another $175,000-200,000 over the life of the contract.
In addition, the new contract calls for a $2 per month discount for senior citizens.
For the remainder of 2016, Comcast will be maintaining the town's municipal internet service. At the end of the year, Comcast will pay the town $100,000. According to Montuori, that money will be used by the town to hook up to a fiber optic network.
If voters at the Annual Town Meeting approve establishment of the Cable Enterprise Fund, the next step will be to hire a full-time employee to oversee operation of the local cable operations and ultimately the cable studio.
"We need to have someone responsible, day-in and day-out for the programming and making sure the equipment is maintained and the (town) events are filmed," said Montuori.
There is also the possibility of creating an independent, non-profit corporation to oversee the local cable TV operations. Neighboring communities have done this to create a fence, of sorts, between Town Hall and the local TV station. Montuori said management decisions would need to be made at a later date by the Board of Selectmen.

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