Comcast building-file

Vote closes five years of negotiations

After years of negotiations, the Town of Ocean City is ready to ink a franchise agreement with Comcast to provide cable television service for residents for the next five years.

Council members voted 6-1 on Tuesday, with Councilman Tony DeLuca opposed, to send a new agreement, with some slight refinements, to a public hearing for approval. The proposed language includes requirements that the company maintain a brick and mortar store in city limits, notify customers within 30 days of rate changes, and cover the full cost of burying utility lines on Baltimore Avenue.

“This contract expired back in 2017 and it’s been the subject of numerous ongoing discussions,” City Manager Terry McGean told council members Tuesday.

Negotiations have been underway for more than five years, and just recently got to a place that both parties find acceptable.

“It’s certainly been a process,” said Chris Comer, director of Government and Regulatory Affairs for the Comcast Beltway Region, of the contract discussions that began in early 2017.

“There’s a number of things that have happened over the years between changes in staff, a pandemic that we’ve all been dealing with, going back and forth on the issues, but we believe this is a good agreement with Ocean City,” he continued. “We are pleased to be a partner here in Ocean City and look forward to continue to providing advanced services to help meet our customers’ needs.”

The company initially wanted a 15-year contract, no requirement to notify customers of rate changes, and no contribution toward the cost of burying utility lines on Baltimore Avenue.

Company officials also were not planning to provide funds for upgrading public, educational and government access equipment, which the new contract requires. A 10 percent discount for seniors was removed as well, because, as Comer said, it was only used by about 20 customers.

Comcast officials also wanted permission to operate a “conveniently” located physical office that was not necessarily in city limits. City staff pushed back with a requirement that Comcast operate a physical office in Ocean City for four full years and operate it seasonally for the fifth. During discussions, Councilman Peter Buas spearheaded a change in the seasonal dates from April 1 through Sept. 30, to March 15 to Oct. 31.

Buas said the season is expanding and pushed for a year-round commitment, but agreed with the compromise that Comer was able to obtain.

No amount of tweaking to the agreement could please DeLuca, though, who said from the get-go that he would vote no on forwarding the agreement to a public hearing, and tried to convince his colleagues to draw up requests for proposals and bid out the contract. He specifically complained about Comcast dropping Baltimore news channels.

“As you know, a very large [number] of residents of Ocean City are from Baltimore, very large,” DeLuca said. “We just found out two or three tourism meetings ago the largest visitation is from Baltimore to Ocean City. Residents, visitors, we’ve had emails. I know some competitors offer Baltimore channels.”

He added that the company’s customer service leaves much to be desired.

“I just don’t think that you’re focused on customer service,” DeLuca said to Comer. “I think this is more driven by dollars. I just think it’s profit. I just think your mission statement’s inverted.”

Comer explained that the channel lineup is not something that the company handles locally, thus they have little control over it.

Despite DeLuca’s objections, the contract proposal advanced and will come back before the council at a future public hearing for review and eventual approval.

This story appears in the Nov. 18, 2022 print edition of the OC Today.

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