Compromising from strength, when compromise is not required


The reason that Chappaquiddick residents (and Islanders elsewhere whose houses and businesses are not proximate to main roads where cable lines travel) don’t have cable access is that the six-town negotiating committee that is trying to make a deal with Comcast has no leverage. There is an imbalance in the respective positions of the participants in the talks that has to do with the small size and value of the Vineyard franchise and the clear perception on Comcast’s part that it has the unrestricted upper hand in the dealing.

Island negotiators can ask for stuff. Comcast can say no, we won’t do that, we’ll only do this. Island negotiators could walk away, but actually they won’t. It would be silly.

Add to this discouraging landscape the fact that cable access is not a natural, federal, state, municipal, or God-given right, as some Islanders now without it seem to argue. And add the fact that there are other means of getting TV and internet service, even on Chappy, but folks who choose to live happily off the grid, so to speak, in some ways find themselves unhappily off the grid, so to speak, in others.

And add, on Comcast’s behalf, the fact that running wires to remote Islanders, wherever they dwell, is expensive, maybe several thousand dollars per hookup or more in some cases.

But, saying no just because you can is not an an admirable position for Comcast to take — and, rather than admirable, it may be contemptible — in what is an important negotiation, especially a negotiation with neighbors, as is the case for Brian Roberts, the chief of Comcast, who lives in West Tisbury in a splendid spot well off the main cable pathways.

It’s not for the selectmen of any one town to stamp their feet and walk away from the bargaining table in a foolish attempt to get Comcast to give a little on the question of remote, aspiring cable customers. Similarly, it’s not for the Island-wide negotiating committee to mount its position in these talks on the pinpoint that is the question of what to do about the outliers.

But it is for Mr. Roberts and the rich, enormous company he controls to take a big step in the right direction. For instance, put that cable beneath the Edgartown Harbor to Chappy and up the main road a bit, where there is some population density. Spread the cable elsewhere on the Island where there is significant interest among would-be customers. Then, offer reasonable financing for the cost of bringing the cable to the house. Ally Bank does it for people who want to buy GM cars. Developers/builders offer it for would-be customers for their houses.

Mr. Roberts and Comcast could do it. He could make the commitment to his neighbors, who would then have the opportunity to choose to make a matching commitment of their own, to him. It’s a neighborly solution.

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