October 31, 2013WAKEFIELD — At their Oct. 23 meeting Wakefield selectmen finally received a response from Time Warner on the changes they requested, While not at all happy with the counterproposal they agreed to hold a public hearing on the contract on Nov. 13.
Negotiations for a new cable contract – the first for Time Warner, which took over the Wakefield cable system from bankrupt Adelphia – have been going on for more than two years. The town hired Kate Miller of the law firm Donahue, Tucker & Ciandella to help the board negotiate a contract, but response from Time Warner has been slow and the company has not made many concessions.
The last discussion of the contract was on April 10, when the board asked for a few changes based in part on comments made by Jim Miller of ClearView Television Services on the 45-page document on March 4.
In the contract version returned by Time Warner six months later, Town Administrator Teresa Williams went over the 10 significant differences in the contract that Attorney Miller highlighted:
1) The term of the contract was extended from eight to 10 years, which was what Time Warner had originally requested. The town had wanted five years.
2) The obligation to update service when technology improves was removed.
3) The company did agree to assign the town's franchise fee (to ClearView).
4) The minimum density of houses per mile needed to install cable service was reset to 15 houses per mile (the original offer) from the town's request for 10.
5) The town's request to build out the remaining unserved areas of town at the rate of one mile per year was rejected based on costs. Miller noted that a court would support the company in that refusal.
6) The bandwidth offered was reduced from 860 MHz to 750 MHz.
7) The company did agree to supply a free cable drop to Paul School and agrees the school does not have to be accredited to receive the cable hookup.
8) If a customer needs a conversion box to change the digital signal to analogue (for older television sets), the company will charge 99 cents a month.
9) The provision to provide a second public access channel after the first year of the contract was made subject to the first channel being fully utilized, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. After Miller objected to that requirement as being unrealistic, the contract reverted to providing a second channel without preconditions after one year.
10) The request for $10,000 for equipment upgrades for the existing public access channel will be billed to subscribers over the 10 year life of the contract and will not be an outright grant, as originally requested.
Jim Miller commented that cable companies used to give startup grants to towns to set up public access channels. Wakefield never received such a grant. Instead, the station began with "antique" used equipment. He said what the channel needs is to upgrade equipment. The main console under consideration costs $13,000 and will support a second channel.
"Right now we have only five DVD players," Miller said. "The new equipment will make 24/7 coverage possible by using hard drives [instead of DVDs]. We want cash to buy equipment that will last 20 years."
Williams noted that to provide $10,000 to the station Time Warner would charge customers six cents per month. She also said it was possible to get a second channel.
Selectman Chair Ken Paul said, "I think we are ready for a public hearing on this. It seems like the best contract we will get."
The date of the hearing was then set for the first regular selectmen's meeting of November, on Wednesday, Nov. 13.
Selectmen also discussed and came up with a solution to allowing contractors to use town sand on private roads. See separate story on this page.
Paul reported that the board is nearly finished working on the 2014 budget. It should be available by Monday, Oct. 28.
Selectman Charlie Edwards gave credit to the Greater Wakefield Chamber of Commerce for the Fall Festival it sponsored in East Wakefield on Oct. 5. He reported that the Chamber may do a Spring Festival in Union next year. For photos of the East Wakefield event, visit greaterwakefieldchamber.com and scroll down.
Edwards also proposed sending letters of appreciation to those businesses that participated in the Festival. The board agreed.
Selectman Connie Twombley reported that the Heritage Commission Open House in Union was well attended. More than 140 visited the Freight House to see the 1909 HO model train layout.
The Greater Wakefield Resource Center is looking for volunteers to help paint, she reported, and the planning board is working on the Master Plan.
Williams reported that she is working on a winter plowing policy with Road Agent Fred Clough and that the Town Clerk's office is now accepting debit and credit cards for payment of town fees.
The next meeting of the Wakefield Board of Selectmen will be on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall meeting room.