Anne Arundel agencies, schools due video hook-ups through Comcast

September 19, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Comcast Cablevision has agreed to spend $5 million over the next three years to bring interactive video capabilities to Anne Arundel County schools, fire stations and other government buildings and to add two cable channels dedicated to public, education and government programming.

The pledge is at the heart of a six-year franchise deal that the Philadelphia company and county officials have tentatively reached. The County Council is expected to approve the pact next month.

"I think it's a quantum leap forward," County Executive Janet S. Owens said yesterday.

According to the agreement, Comcast would pay the county 5 percent of its annual gross revenue as a franchise fee. That is expected to mean $1.5 million a year that the county can spend as it wishes.

Comcast also has agreed to improve customer service, with the county gaining new power to ensure that those standards are met.

Comcast is the county's largest provider of cable television, with about 80,000 subscribers. It is undertaking a $75 million system upgrade countywide that, among other things, would give subscribers high-speed Internet access.

Another cable company, Millennium Digital Media, has 56,000 subscribers in the northern section of the county.

Half the $5 million upfront payment from Comcast to the county would help expand the Intra-County Institutional Network from 16 locations to 112 within three years. That would link nearly every middle and high school, all county offices, fire and police stations and Anne Arundel Community College to the same fiber-optic network.

The high-speed link would make interactive video communication possible. For example, a teacher could instruct students in schools across the county and then take questions or comments from those students. The other half of the $5 million would be earmarked for expansion of public, education and government channels. There are now two channels; one is used by schools internally, Sulin said.

Comcast would add two more stations so that one each would be dedicated to public access, the community college, the school board and the county government.

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