Comcast negotiations provide new directions

Martha’s Vineyard Community Television (MVTV) recently held a series of public forums designed to request input from Island residents about Comcast, the Vineyard’s cable television provider as the six towns prepare to renew the existing contract (see related story).

New MVTV director Julienne Turner sees resource issues as a key part of her wish list for the MVTV of the future. “Our proposal will involve changing MVTV from a public TV access to a community media center which is very different from community access. We have to think about viewers of media rather than just the user of the media,” she said.

Beyond that, she said, “The idea is to embrace more digital and media literacy, a transformation of technology rather than TV only. We need to partner with nonprofits and community groups, it’s more about do-it-yourself TV. As a media center they (community groups) take a role in producing and covering events.”

Ms. Turner, formerly the director of cable access TV in Concord, New Hampshire, said digital illiteracy is a growing problem. “I’ve experienced, in this market and others, a growing gap in digital and media literacy, particularly between generations. Our role is to respond to that as media and technology continue to transform society,” she said

“We’re serving needs groups who don’t want to, or can’t, do the technical work. But we can set up a strong internship program, using high school students and unemployed people, pair them with groups to do the technical part. Have classes so people with ideas can flesh out their ideas and do planning.

“That takes a lot of time and money and we’ll determine the future based mostly on what we receive from Comcast,” she said.

Fred LaPiana, Tisbury public works director and CAB representative, has heard the anecdotal stories of Comcast service issues but he has a simpler wish list: more fiber-optic cable.

Comcast uses fiber-optic but lays coaxial cable rather than fiber-optic cable to link service from the street to homes, and coaxial cable cannot handle the growing array of services, such as high-speed internet. broadband and video streaming, he said. “Those (services) just suck up the space available on coaxial cable,” he added.

“We need to put pressure on Comcast to deliver some of this technology. The only other fiber-optic player on the Island at this point is GPCS Fiber in Vineyard Haven, which has laid $1 million in fiber optic cable here in order to deliver fiber-optic cable infrastructure from Fairhaven, MA. It’s a serious proposal. Comcast could be a customer. At the very least, (a fiber-optic provider) is going to offer some competition.”

Mr. LaPiana said another possible alternative is a fiber-optic link from Boston or Providence. “A group on the Cape has received $30 million in stimulus money to do the project, so that’s another possibility,” he said.

“Our link to the mainland link is tenuous at best. We’re hoping to have a good connection to the world. We can’t negotiate it (with Comcast), but we can discuss it,” he said.

Mr. LaPiana also said there has been discussion about a separate channel for his town. “The suggestion came up at one of our meetings in town. We are participating equally in the CAB negotiations, we’re on the team. But there’s also a thought that Tisbury, as other towns have their own individual needs, might have their own channel. It’s one of the services we might want to consider,” he said.