The Millville Town Council at its Tuesday, Jan. 12, meeting approved a seven-year franchise agreement with Medicom LLC as a provider of cable television service in the town.
The council voted 5-0 to approve the contract after a public hearing, which was held via teleconference, as was the entire meeting.
After holding off on the hearing for several months, the Town only received two comments in advance of the hearing, both involving complaints about current service by the cable provider. One was in the form of a letter from Gary and Kelly Obusek, who said they experienced a cable outage of nearly a month in 2017.
The Obuseks’ letter also addressed what they characterized as an annoying unreliability in the company’s on-demand service. They also said the lack of National Hockey League and Major League Baseball stations on Mediacom’s channel roster is “inexcusable.”
Their letter also asked the Town to try to “convince” Verizon to offer FIOS service — which is available in other parts of Sussex County but not the beach areas — as well as Comcast, which has recently begun expansion to Bethany Beach and South Bethany, to offer service in Millville.
Town Manager Debbie Botchie said Millville has been negotiating with Comcast for nine years, and “Verizon flat-out said ‘no’” to bringing FIOS to Millville and surrounding towns, due to the cost of laying the fiber-optic cable.
Christopher Lord, Mediacom’s government relations manager, said he was not aware of any widespread outage in 2017 and encouraged the Obuseks to speak with him privately about it. He also said Mediacom “could gladly add more channels” if there was enough customer demand. “We would pass on those costs, though,” Lord said, “and they are not inconsequential. They are substantial.”
Lord reiterated that the contract with Millville is not exclusive, and that any other company that wished to could offer television service in the town.
Deputy Mayor Ronald Belinko said he estimates he’s had to request between six and eight service calls from Mediacom, “mainly for cable,” rather than internet service, “and mainly on-demand.”
He recounted a recent evening when on-demand movies were not loading for his wife, who wanted to watch something else while he was watching a football game.
“It’s very frustrating,” when on-demand service isn’t working properly, Belinko said, although he added that, overall, he is satisfied with Mediacom’s service.
Lord said that Mediacom recognized there were some issues with training of some of its technicians and that the company has done more intensive training in the past six months to address that, and that it has made some “staffing changes” as well.
“There were some complaints that some of the technicians weren’t fully trained when they came to the house,” he said. “That’s not acceptable,” he said. “We want to make sure we not only fix the issue but treat every customer with respect,” he said.
Lord also said Mediacom has been systematically replacing outdated equipment at customers’ homes.
Council Treasurer Sharon Brienza said she and her husband had seen a difference between technicians who were Mediacom employees and those who were contractors with the company, with the latter being less reliable.
Lord said Mediacom attempts to use employees for service calls and reserve contractors for installations, which tend to be less technical.
When council member Peter Michel asked whether the franchise agreement could be shorter than the proposed seven years, Botchie said that was the shortest contract the company would agree to.
Lord said it prefers 15-year contracts, which is what Millville had before its previous contract, which was also seven years.
“The shorter the term, the shakier the relationship is,” he said.
Mayor Steve Maneri related complaints from neighbors who had exposed cable in their yard for months. Lord acknowledged that Mediacom “had a slowdown with our bury contractors” in the past year, but that “we are catching up on that.”
Millville resident Glen Bonderenko, who called in to the teleconferenced hearing but said he had also written a letter, read his letter over the phone. Bonderenko said his major complaint was continued price increases, several of which he said amounted to $20 at a time.
“I’m trying to keep my cable bill within reason,” Bonderenko said.
Lord said that, “When it comes to rate increases, we are at the mercy of content providers. If they choose to raise prices for their channels, we have to match that,” he said, or be forced to remove channels from their lineup.
He said he was not aware of any $20 price hikes “across the board,” and offered to review Bonderenko’s bill with him.