Comcast's commitment, no commitment at all
To the Editor:
I'm writing in response to Steve Hackley's OpEd ["Comcast's commitment to Martha's Vineyard is stronger than ever," March 15] concerning Comcast's refusal to include cabling of Chappaquiddick in their 2011 license proposal.
Comcast's response to Edgartown's request for a proposal from Comcast to provide cable to Chappaquiddick has been simply a reiteration of refusal to do so. Comcast's response to provide cable to the 1,300 dwellings on Martha's Vineyard currently without access has been simply a reiteration of a refusal to do so. Comcast rejects its own offer to cable all houses which meet the 15 per mile criteria and refuses to invest on Chappy where there are 500 dwellings which could be serviced with 25 miles of cable. Comcast says if you don't have access now, you'll never get it unless you pay for it yourself.
The citizens of Chappaquiddick have used the various public forums to press their case for 21st-century technology on Chappy, carefully following all the rules of civil discourse. Property owners on Chappy know that cable TV and broadband service to their properties will increase their property values. Twenty percent of Edgartown's property value is on Chappaquiddick, 30 percent of land area. One fifth of Edgartown's budget is financed by Chappaquiddick property owners. But, disproportionately, 90 percent of Edgartown's properties without cable service are on Chappaquiddick. Apparently Comcast thinks Chappy is not part of Edgartown.
The negotiations for licensing of Comcast's cable business is limited to just a few items. Buildout is one of them. Rates, program packages, and quality of service are not on the table. Comcast wants to continue its business in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard freely using public right of ways and public air waves, yet has carved out 1/3 third of the town as "financially questionable." Edgartown selectmen know the importance of Chappaquiddick to the town and indicated their desire to have Chappy included in any cable TV service to Edgartown. The RFP states; "The board of selectmen believes that cable service to Chappaquiddick should be the number one priority of this renewal process." Comcast, in negotiations for more than a year, has not offered to cable Chappy, instead suggesting the town or the individual property owners pay for it.
Comcast has not provided any independent documentation to support their estimate of $2 million to cable Chappy. They have not revealed their agreement with Nstar to use the newly laid cross harbor conduit. They have not suggested a partial cabling plan of just the public ways on Chappy. They have only suggested that taxpayers of Edgartown who happen to live on Chappy should pay their own way.
Comcast proposes that some of the money they collect and disperse to operate the community TV station could be tapped to pay for cabling Chappy. They say they will be collecting $5 million over the next 10 years for that purpose. That is five percent of their expected revenue from cable TV service on all of Martha's Vineyard. That number indicates they expect to earn revenues of $100 million from just the TV portion of their cable service, which also earns revenue from broadband, Internet, and phone service. Comcast's net profit as a percent of revenue over the last three years has averaged nine percent. If Comcast were required to invest $2 million on Chappy, it would reduce their net income from Martha's Vineyard TV cable service to seven percent, twice the three percent rate Verizon reports as their net income. If Comcast were to take out a profit at the same rate that Verizon does, Comcast could provide cable to every house on Martha's Vineyard now without service, all 1,300 of them, even those three miles down a private road.
Let's hear more about Comcast's commitment to Martha's Vineyard. Certainly the selectmen and Comcast will find a compromise that doesn't continue to carve out Chappy, as if they wanted the island to wash away.