Seal of the Town of South Bethany, Delaware

Mediacom representatives spoke directly to residents of South Bethany as the town continues renegotiating a new cable TV franchise agreement with the company. On Aug. 13, 10 property owners were invited to directly discuss service issues with Mediacom representatives, including Chris Lord, government relations manager and South Bethany’s main contact during recent negotiations.

“The pattern is reliability, connectively, just counting on good service and frustration from the property owners,” said councilmember Sue Callaway, who has taken the lead on Mediacom renegotiations.

But basically, Mediacom isn’t going to just throw new nodes at the connectivity problems.

“Their data continues to show that they are capable of providing services at peak level. And at this point in time, they do not see the need to add additional nodes or whatever other equipment to enhance the service. And that just seems to contradict the reality of the actual service delivery in town,” Callaway told the Town Council a few days later.

“I believe every single person here is sharing their experience and telling their truth. I don’t doubt that all. What I’m seeing is adding a node might not fix the issue … there has to be something that would need to be addressed outside that node issue,” Lord told the focus group on Aug. 13. “At the node level, we’re not seeing a need. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to do other work, don’t need to do better work in the area or on direct lines.”

For now, Mediacom will continue testing and checking equipment, “working backward from individual-level to street nodes to the plant,” he said.

Asked about any bottlenecks of bandwidth in South Bethany, Lord said, “We’re not seeing anything right now that would indicate major utilization issues that need to be addressed. Not to say we’re not looking toward the future …”

And community upgrades to bandwidth are based on usage, not the highest bidder, Lord said.

“We gauge it by node consumption, not money … if one node in this area is highly over-utilized and having a lot of problems … we’re going to put our resources basically where the most utilization is. We don’t look at which customers are on which node.”

Mediacom has the official contract for cable TV in South Bethany and various other municipalities. The current contract expired on July 10, although it was extended through Oct. 1 for negotiations, and will likely be extended again.

South Bethany’s franchise agreement with Mediacom is only for cable TV, but the Town Council created a subcommittee to address issues on internet and phone quality, too. This summer, Mediacom agreed to work through a five-point checklist of improvements for South Bethany, including an inventory of home equipment and road infrastructure. They’re now repeating some analysis after Tropical Storm Isaias blew through on Aug. 4.

Depending on the infrastructure needed, installation can take anywhere from a few days to a few months, based on equipment, shipping, underground digging, public permits and more.

“The existing infrastructure, which is providing both cable and internet, is inconsistent,” said property owner Karen Marshall, who shared results of her own internet speed tests. She asked how Mediacom is investing in infrastructure to meet its service commitments, minimize outages and build a sound foundation for future growth.

“We are working to increase bandwidth, making sure we are … able to provide the service that we are advertising to customers,” Lord said. “We are investing quite a bit in our infrastructure, in your area as well as company-wide to make sure we’re able to do that.”

For internet speeds, Mediacom routers use dual-band connections, so residents can choose which network to use.

“The 2.4GHz is the stronger network … it can go further, can penetrate through more walls, it has better penetration in your home. The 5GHz is a different frequency that can provide overall better connection, better speeds, but it doesn’t have the penetrability, so it’s kind of a shorter range.

“The speeds we’re advertising here are those speeds you’ll get plugged into the modem … with the slower 2.4, we can expect that to be a bit slower than the 5GHz network, so that’s something you need to be aware of when you’re connecting to your devices, these dual-band routers have two speeds, and for the fastest connection, you want to connect to the 5GHz, and if the house is larger, we do have range extenders you can put in place to make sure that the house is covered with the full network.”

Stephen Farrow shared his displeasure with repairs being scheduled for 7 to 10 days from the first call. Lord said the average service response time has decreased to 3.5 days, but he acknowledged that it’s still not fast enough.

“Some people rent their homes out on a weekly basis. Three-and-a-half days is a death sentence,” said Peter Moulder. “If you have renters in your home and the cable and internet go out on Tuesday, they’re leaving Saturday morning, and you’re on the hook as the person owning the home. I’m interested in what can be done and what we can include in this agreement about an improved service level and perhaps some incentives for Mediacom to meet a 24- or 36-hour deadline for service calls.”

“Is Mediacom doing any sort of periodic testing for signal and service?” asked Brian Moroz, who pressed the company on network quality issues.

Yes, Lord said, the Network Monitoring Department collects data every 15 minutes on every modem in the system, and they conduct quarterly drive-outs to test the signals around town. But he stopped at the point of sharing that “proprietary” data with the Town, especially because the data can be interpreted different ways without guidance.

“We’re not opposed to being transparent with the town, to talk about issues … but we’re not publishing quarterly reports on what our network statistics are, at this point,” Lord said, although he was open to having those conversations and making the Town aware of issues.

“I think it’s something the Town should consider, having those kinds of conversations, some kind of periodic reporting they can use to understand better how you’re doing, along the terms of your contract,” Moroz said. “I mean what’s the point of getting into a contact with Mediacom if after it’s signed, the service is terrible and there’s nobody checking up on it? That’s just a general contract term I think you should consider.”

For pricing, longtime customers aren’t eligible for perks packages used to attract new clients. Lord recommended that customers call the billing department to request savings or plan changes. Beyond that, there is also a retention department who can also review the account.

“Customers can upgrade modem or other equipment boxes anytime, but might have to get shipped from the warehouse,” instead of swapping locally, Lord said. “We do have our latest and greatest boxes in stock for customers, if they request it, again we highly recommend you call our call center and get that shipped to you. If you call our call center and say ‘our old box is old, not working as well’ — There should be no resistance from our call center agent to ship you out a new box” plus a prepaid box for returns. “If you go to the local [Dagsboro] office, they may not have the newest equipment in stock.” However, he warned that replacing the box may result in a loss of DVR history, which has deterred many people from upgrading.

The group also discussed On Demand movie options; training for support technicians; the possibility of a locals-only pricing package; the limits on additional pricing tiers; the possibility of a public Wi-Fi hotspot; and the future of 10G networks, which will one day require replacement household modems and additional nodes on the street.

The Mediacom network includes 600,000 miles of speedy fiber-optic cable and 50,000 miles of slower coaxial cable. but the latter type that physically ties local residents to the grid.

For complete information on the meeting audio, project lists and results of the town-wide user survey, visit https://southbethany.delaware.gov/mediacom-survey-results-reports.

Staff Reporter

Laura Walter is an award-winning reporter on schools, environment, people and history. A graduate of Indian River High School and Washington College, she has rappelled off a building and assisted a magician, and encourages readers to act on local issues.