Southwick renews cable license

SOUTHWICK – The Southwick Board of Selectmen this week approved the new contract for cable services in town.
The contract, which is with Comcast, is nearly identical to the previous contract.
“There is not much negotiating going on between towns and the cable company these days,” said Cable Advisory Committee member Art Boissonnault. “It’s basically the same as the last one.”
The board did try to negotiate an electronic billboard for the center of town as requested by selectmen, with disappointing results.
“They said they would help with technical assistance, but that was it,” Boissonnault said.
Selectman Russell Fox made the request for the billboard and said this week that he was not surprised that request was not fulfilled.
“Let’s face it, we have limited options,” said Fox. “Obviously Comcast has a lot of contracts and if they agreed to do this for us, they would have to do it for others.”
Fox said he was encouraged by the offer of assistance.
“The fact that they agreed verbally to give us technical assistance was very positive,” he said. “I would like to see us use some of the money we get from Comcast toward an electronic sign and I think there are opportunities with other businesses in town that could help get this going.”
Fox said similar devices are used in other towns and it is a way to get a message to citizens.
“It’s another way of letting people know when there is an emergency, or a town meeting – it’s a great thing for our community,” said Fox.
Comcast Public Relations Director Laura Brubaker Crisco said the company is happy to offer help when the time comes.
“We enjoy a good working relationship with the Town of Southwick.  As they determine their specific plans, we look forward to hearing what their needs are and whether we can provide technical assistance,” said Crisco.
The Committee met on the topic dozens of times over the past year and held a public hearing last spring.
Town Counsel Jeffrey Fialky said the committee was charged with determining whether the quality of services has been met and whether Comcast’s proposal is reasonable to meet the town’s future needs, among other charges.
“Under the law, we cannot negotiate rates,” Fialky said, adding the town cannot negotiate programming.
Committee member Carol Baribeau said the committee recommended rates stay the same and added that there were not a lot of additional requests.
“We were exploring things to enhance cable service,” said Baribeau. “There are not a lot of additional needs in town.”
The contract was renewed for five years, beginning on Sept. 30, 2012, and will expire at midnight Sept. 29, 2017.
The contract includes standard language about tree trimming, complaint procedures, cable provisions to residents, and service interruption.
Many residents took an interest in the service interruption policy following last year’s Oct. 29 storm that left much of Southwick in the dark for a week. The policy states that in the event that service is interrupted for 24-hours or more consecutive hours, a pro rata credit will be given upon request for that portion of the service charge during the next billing cycle, or apply the credit to any outstanding balance due.
Revenue from Comcast helps run the town’s cable access channel. According to Southwick Chief Administrative Officer Karl Stinehart, the town received Comcast revenue of $18,948.74 for fiscal year 2012  and year-to-date for FY13 is $4,640.90.
Some communities receive equipment from the cable provider to broadcast board meetings. Selectwoman Tracy Cesan’s campaign platform included a desire to air the Board of Selectmen meetings on Channel 15. She said she did contact Comcast about assistance with the broadcast but was told Southwick did not meet guidelines for free equipment.
Cesan has reached out to the high school for help with taping meetings, but so far has not received any interest.
“I was told they have too many commitments,” said Cesan, who is not giving up on her promise to get the meetings broadcast somehow.
“I make audio recordings of the meetings, which I plan to transfer to my computer and people can listen to the digital files,” she said. “And I think I’m going to start my own internship for a student to help with this.”
Cesan said Boissonnault said if she could provide a tape, he would edit and air it but he did not have the time to tape every meeting himself.
“I am still actively pursuing this, so if anyone has any interest in helping out, they should contact me,” said Cesan.

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