EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 23, 2014

Plaistow selectmen upset over Comcast 'monopoly'

Increasing costs, poor service worry officials

By Alex Lippa

---- — PLAISTOW — Selectmen are upset over increasing Comcast cable TV rates and their apparent inability to do anything about them.

“They have a monopoly in the area,” Selectman Joyce Ingerson said. “With no competition, they will keep raising the costs.”

Selectman have asked Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald to speak with other companies that may be interested in serving Plaistow. Currently, Comcast is the only cable company serving Plaistow. Customers can buy satellite service from DirecTV and Dish Network. Both of those companies have also increased rates this year.

“It’s difficult for every municipality, for the entire nation,” Fitzgerald said. “We don’t have a competitive marketplace for cable. Effectively they have a monopoly.”

Comcast spokesman Marc Goodman said this was the first time Comcast had heard of Plaistow having an issue.

“We are reaching out to the appropriate teams for further review and are making every effort to directly contact Plaistow officials,” Goodman said. “Our goal is to provide a superior customer experience every day. If we hear from a customer who has an issue with our products or services, we strive to resolve it as soon as possible.”

Goodman said business costs and technology improvements have contributed to rate increases.

“Programming costs, including broadcast retransmission fees, which have more than doubled in recent years, are a major driver of price adjustments,” he said. “Beginning this year, we are itemizing a portion of broadcast retransmission costs as a separate line item to be more transparent with our customers about the factors that drive price increases.”

Most towns around Plaistow also have Comcast as their lone cable provider. Atkinson Town Administrator Bill Innes said the town had no problems with Comcast’s service.

“We’ve had very little complaints since I’ve been here,” Innes said. “Probably only two or three.”

Fitzgerald said it would be difficult to attract another cable company to Plaistow.

“As a smaller community, we just haven’t been able to attract another provider to compete with Comcast,” Fitzgerald said. “The board has asked that I look into inviting some other cable companies to offer their services in town. I will be doing that over the next few weeks, but it would certainly be a challenge. “

Ingerson said she had more problems with Comcast than just the rate increases.

“The service is poor,” she said. “The costs are increasing, but the service and quality of service is not. Service is interrupted with black box messages or choppy squares throughout the picture. This occurs almost every night.”

The town is in the fifth year of a five-year contract with Comcast. Fitzgerald said the current plan is to re-up that contract.

“There is very little that a town can do to affect the rate,” he said.

Fitzgerald is a proponent of a regional contract for cable.

“It would give us a stronger position in terms of municipal and regional needs,” he said. “We could maybe strategically coordinate equipment investments in technology.”