Editorial: Not a bum deal, but maybe the best deal

Editorial: Not a bum deal, but maybe the best deal

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When it was announced, we called the new 10-year Comcast contract a bum deal for Chappaquiddick residents, who will have to pay a steep price for cable service, make a two-year, year-round commitment, and perhaps pay more to get cable service from Chappy’s main roads to their doors. Expansion of cable to other currently underserved areas will be expensive also.

On the other hand, and having in mind the non-Chappy interests among the contracting towns, that deal, in negotiation since 2011, added a 10 percent senior discount program, an emergency alert override system, a fourth public access channel for MVTV, the Island’s own cable programming producer (which is also funded through the Comcast contract).

As one negotiator described it, the agreement won’t please everyone, especially Chappaquiddickers — very true, but there is some good in it for Islanders generally, and some on the small island will find it attractive.

Although this page urged the six towns to endorse the new cable deal, it appears to be the case that, judging from the discussion that occurred on Saturday at the July meeting of members of the Chappaquiddick Island Association, and from the efforts of Comcast to carefully and incrementally structure the new deal, our assessment was off the mark.

Smart Chappy residents, with the help of a well prepared Comcast executive, understand that they can individually express interest in becoming Comcast customers without consequently taking on a no-exit liability whose exact size is unknown. They also understand that when the cable company surveys each prospective customer’s property and assigns a price tag to the construction work needed to connect the house to the main line at the road, the property owner can say I’m in, or not.

Most important, after all the negotiating and the cost issues, it may be that the deal isn’t a bum deal, but rather the best deal, when it is measured against realistic projections of what lies ahead for digital consumers of all sorts of services.

“We have to have reliable high speed internet,” Woody Filley, a Chappy resident, told his neighbors, as Times writer Barry Stringfellow reports this morning. “Let’s really think about what will be five or ten years down the line. A lot of people will be going to the doctor right from their home. Ten years ago, think about it, you had to drive to the Steamship and stand in line to get your ticket, or even more annoying, try to do it on the phone. People say this is about TV, but TV isn’t the issue here. We’re talking about internet. We’re talking about bundled services that might actually save you money. If this conversation was taking place 100 years ago, it would be like discussing if we should have indoor plumbing or outdoor plumbing. This is essential for children, for education, and for business. We’ll have to wait at least ten years if we don’t get it right this time.”

Certainly, there are problems ahead that will be difficult to solve. The price tag will be hard to manage for some property owners — although there are generous plans ahead to help those who may need help to pay what in even the most economical cases will be a big one. The effort to meet the threshold requirement in the contract (that about half of Chappy property owners must signal their intention to become Comcast customers) will be difficult to meet. And the residual ill will among some Chappy residents toward the cable Goliath, which had to be dragooned into making a deal that would extend cable services to Chappy, will not evaporate quickly. But as Mr. Filley argued, taking advantage of this moment to “get it right this time” may brighten the outlook for the Chappy community for years to come.

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