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. It’s a fact that this page and most Islanders have accepted. 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. Comcast can say no, we won’t do that, we’ll only do this. Or they can delay necessary side agreements – as for instance with NSTAR to use its cable connection to Chappy to extend service to the small island. Doing so is an abusive, bad faith negotiating tactic.
Frustrated, and acknowledging its limited ability to influence the discussions, Edgartown has withdrawn from the talks. This ought to be an embarrassment for the cable behemoth, one a public company such as Comcast ought to move quickly to correct.
Of course, cable access is not a natural, federal, state, municipal, or God-given right. But, for Chappaquiddick residents, access to Comcast services, by all that is reasonable, ought to be part of the agreement that has been under discussion between the six Vineyard towns and the cable provider. It is not possible to believe that Comcast officials think otherwise.
Saying no just because you can, or failing to make the threshhold deal with NSTAR precedent to making cable service available to Chappaquiddickers, is not an admirable position for Comcast to take. Rather than admirable, it is bullying. In what is an important negotiation, especially for his 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, getting this deal done ought to be easy and quick.
It is for Mr. Roberts and the rich, enormous company he controls to take a big step in the right direction. He and Comcast could do it. There is room in the deal being discussed to share the costs. Mr. Roberts could make the commitment to his neighbors that is called for here.