On Thursday, June 2, the Town of Millville held a public hearing to solicit comment concerning the town’s cable franchise renewal.
“This is your opportunity to voice your questions, comments and concerns for Mediacom that we, as a town, will gather up all of the comments and, hopefully, develop our franchise agreement to best suit the town residents,” said Mayor Gerald “Gerry” Hocker Jr.
“This franchise agreement that all these municipalities have, has been in place for 15 years. We are going to ask for five. We’ll negotiate for seven, but no more,” added Town Manager Debbie Botchie, who noted that the franchise agreement only applies to cable television — not phone or Internet service.
The Towns of Millville, Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Ocean View jointly hired Cohen Law Group of Pennsylvania last year to help negotiate their upcoming, separate contract renewals with Mediacom, hoping to strengthen their positions going into the negotiations and deal with complaints from customers within their towns.
“They’re just awful,” said South Bethany resident Martha Jenkins, who added that, when her family comes to the beach, they always have trouble with their phone, cable TV and Internet.
Many residents in attendance questioned why other cable providers, such as Comcast, do not offer service in the area. They wondered if the renewal of the franchise agreement would keep the providers out of town.
“From a legal perspective, the franchise agreement is nonexclusive,” explained Town Solicitor Seth Thompson. “So the town can enter into another franchise agreement with a different provider. But you’re going to have to convince the provider that it’s worth the financial investment.”
That investment includes the need for any new franchisee to lay their own cable, for which they would have to – as Mediacom does – pay the towns the right to place it in the towns’ rights-of-way, as part of the franchise agreements.
Jim Elwell said that he has been a resident of Millville for 13 months and is very satisfied with the taxes and people, and loves the ocean.
“My only negative thought or feelings is Mediacom,” he said. “They don’t care about us.”
Elwell said he calls the company at least three times a month due to service interruptions and is unable to have DirecTV service, due to the trees in the Windhurst community.
Resident Loretta Primus said that, of all the cable companies she’s used, Mediacom is “the most irresponsible company I’ve ever dealt with, “adding that she had been waiting for a rebate check from the company since December.
“They need to be held to some kind of accountability.”
Richard Shoobridge said the town should look into controlling prices, as many have recently found their bills increasing substantially. He also said that residents should be able to choose which channels they would like to have, rather than being forced to choose from a limited set of packages.
Resident and teacher Jaime Sowers said the cable Internet outages affect him from being able to do work from home. He also said that, personally, he would like to see more sports packages available.
Botchie noted that the towns are hoping to require that reimbursements for interrupted service are automatically credited to customers.
Leslie Walsh Smith said that she has filed complaints against Mediacom with both the Federal Communications Commission and the Better Business Bureau and that she has called both state Rep. Gerald Hocker and Sen. George Bunting about problems with the company. She urged other residents to do the same.
Councilwoman Joan Bennett said she hopes the town will be able to gain public access channels, which would offer another way to communicate with citizens.
“In some small way, it might make Mediacom look better,” she said.
“Hopefully, we’ll have the town – us – with more contact with our residents that you come to us with complaints. So, hopefully, it’s better in numbers, because we are the franchising authority,” said Botchie. “Every complaint I’ve heard tonight is the same complaint I’ve heard from every other resident and property owner in Bethany Beach, South Bethany, Ocean View and then some.”