Public can comment on Comcast's cable service Company seeks to extend agreement ending in 1998

March 18, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The public will have a chance to comment on cable television service tonight before the Baltimore County Council at a hearing on renegotiation of the 180,000-subscriber Comcast Cablevision's franchise.

Comcast, which is upgrading its system, is seeking a 15-year extension of the franchise agreement due to expire in April 1998.

"We're in the midst of a pretty huge change," Comcast spokesman David H. Nevins said last week, noting that the Philadelphia-based company is spending $100 million to upgrade its system, which also serves Howard and Harford counties.

The improvements will include 3,000 miles of fiber optic cable that will allow more than 100 channels instead of the approximately 70 now available. The franchise extension would require a minimum of 84 channels.

Because of the upgrade, now about one-third finished, Mr. Nevins said he thinks people are relatively happy with their service. "We don't expect a whole lot of harangue on Monday evening," he said.

County Council Secretary Thomas J. Peddicord Jr., who monitors cable issues through the council's telecommunications panel, agreed that complaints have been few maybe six a month, and usually about programming changes or fee increases.

Comcast pays the county about $4 million a year 5 percent of gross revenues for the right to use public right of ways to place its cables. Its franchise also gives the county access to some channels and services for schools, government and other public uses.

The company is permitted to request an extension three years early, and Comcast and county officials have been trading letters and gathering information since last year in preparation for negotiations that likely will be concluded by early next year. "We want to go through a structured process," said Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville Democrat. After the public hearing, the company and county will trade proposals. The county's goal, Mr. Kamenetz said, is to keep its technological options open, without losing badly needed revenue from the franchise.

With telephone companies like Bell Atlantic looking for ways to get into the business using their own system of wires, and new communications technologies emerging, the county is determined not to limit its options.

Pub Date: 3/18/96

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