Editorial: Comcast prices Chappy service, but does it really want to deal

Editorial: Comcast prices Chappy service, but does it really want to deal

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Comcast, making what it calls its final offer — and its first fully fleshed out proposal — will agree to cable Chappaquiddick Island, but residents of the small Edgartown neighborhood will have to pay $824,000 of the $1.58 million the expansion of service capability will cost.

Edgartown selectman Art Smadbeck, in contrast to Comcast’s own description of the late innings overture, told Times writer Steve Myrick this week, “It’s not a final draft of anything. It appears that we’re going in the right direction. Now we have to flesh it out.”

On Chappy, the cable giant’s proposal got a frosty welcome. Chappaquiddick Island Association (CIA) president Roger Becker dismissed it out of hand.

This is the latest installment in a two-year-long tale of negotiations between the six towns and Comcast over the terms of a new 10-year agreement. Extension of service to Chappaquiddick has been a roadblock to progress toward a deal, and as Mr. Smadbeck suggests, this sortie from Comcast may be the beginning of a breach in that blockage.

The math behind this proposal unfairly favors the cable company and abuses the Chappaquiddick population. Expecting customers to absorb more than 50 percent of capital costs for an extension of service that ought to be entirely the responsibility of Comcast in the first place is unreasonable on the face of it. The business risk the cable company accepts is that it employs its capital — of which this particular company has oodles — to make its product available to potential customers. The company trusts that its products and services will attract customers, whose monthly fees will, over time and in part, amortize that investment.

This page has argued that the cost per potential customer for extending service to the tiny island may be sufficiently out of the norm to warrant asking customers to bear some unusually large share of the capital burden. In all normal circumstances, this would be entirely reasonable, although of course in this case, Comcast, whose value is measured in billions and billions and whose chief is a summer neighbor of Vineyarders, wants 540 Chappy property owners to give it a hand financing the $1.5 million capital nut. There is a sense of gross disproportion attached to this latest proposal.

Perhaps, as Mr. Smadbeck suggests, the two sides — Comcast and the negotiators for the six Island towns — have only begun to bargain over this issue. There is a reasonable deal to be had, and allowing this impasse over a cable contract expected to govern relations between the Vineyard and Comcast for a decade hence seems, on the face of it, preposterous.

The haggling has already consumed 20 percent of the anticipated contract term, without success. Islanders know it makes sense to get a deal that offers cable service on sensible terms to all. Anyone with common sense knows, and this should include Comcast negotiators, that finding no way to resolve a contract disagreement in the course of two years of discussions is just plain silly.