Seal of the Town of South Bethany, Delaware

After hearing less-than-impressive public feedback about Mediacom cable television and internet service, the South Bethany Town Council has been encouraged by recent meetings with the company.

Now, they’re planning to invite a handful of property owners to give personal testimony and ask insightful questions of the company. The focus group will have a private (virtual) meeting on Aug. 13, in which each participant can share their perspective and ask questions of Mediacom staff.

The meeting is by invitation only and will not be a public meeting, nor have a quorum of council members. However, afterward, the public can visit to see the Mediacom meeting notes with questions and comments.

In a recent online survey, the Town asked South Bethany customers to comment on all aspects of Mediacom service: television, internet and home telephone. The survey results showed plenty of dissatisfaction in various areas.

“We are being very vigilant in responding to the survey. We were not happy with the survey comments and the survey ratings, and we’ve made that clear with Mediacom,” said Council Member Sue Callaway, who has led the charge.

Mediacom has a franchise contract for cable TV in South Bethany and various other municipalities. The current contract expired on July 10, although it has been extended through Oct. 1 for negotiations.

South Bethany’s franchise agreement with Mediacom is only for cable TV, but that could provide the Town some leverage to improve residents’ internet or phone service quality, too.

Because of Delaware’s COVID-19 state of emergency, the public missed the chance to participate in South Bethany’s planned Mediacom town hall-style meeting, which was canceled in April.

Instead, this summer, a handful of town council members have been meeting with Mediacom in a smaller setting. So far, the town council has been encouraged, they said, by an honest and productive dialogue with Christopher Lord, Mediacom’s government relations manager for the coastal region, and his team, including Pat Hynes, the local area manager.

“Mediacom agreed to develop an action plan to address the concerns of South Bethany citizens and demonstrate their intent to resolve existing problems prior to agreeing to a new local franchise agreement,” Callaway reported.

Since then, Lord has provided a five-point plan for South Bethany improvements.

Major tasks include: an inventory and review of existing infrastructure; equipment review of in-home equipment; a network analysis; a survey of customer feedback who have had troubleshooting or service calls; and an updated rates list.

On many issues, upgrades and repairs have already begun. The company must also report back to Town Hall within 30 or 60 days.

“We agreed to meet again in another month and will continue to evaluate progress on the specifics … so I feel we're making some progress toward accountability on some of these issues,” Callaway said. “We did make an agreement that should a customer continue to have a problem in getting things resolved,” she said, they can email Town Manager Maureen Hartman, who will follow up with the local Mediacom manager.

“We all know there’s issues with Mediacom, but our goal is to get the survey results in front of them and get the issues addressed,” before the Town signs another long-term contract, said Mayor Tim Saxton.

Survey results and the five-part to-do list are already posted to the Town website. More updates will be added.

The South Bethany Town Council discussed the topic on July 10, at the same time as a widespread phone and internet outage in the region. Coastal Delaware was waterlogged with 4 to 5 inches of rain in 12 hours after Tropical Storm Fay brought heavy rain, winds up to 30 mph and various flood watches.

“Internet is not a convenience — it’s a necessity. I’ve got three people trying to work from home today, and the internet is out. … I think we need to do more as a town,” said property owner Ron Jackey.

As the pandemic and modernization pushes more people to work from home, property owner Mark Damato said he believes people will more spend time in South Bethany, which means the communications systems need to work.

As for inviting another cable TV company to serve South Bethany, “Why aren’t we getting someone else in here? Well, they have to have an interest to come here,” said Saxton. “Most of the companies we’ve spoken to don’t have an interest in coming here and building out the infrastructure right now.”

In other South Bethany news:

  •  With council meetings physically closed to the public due to the pandemic, Town Hall is researching upgrades to the audio system to improve the sometimes-poor audio quality.
  •  The council has held two closed executive sessions in two months for strategy sessions, including those involving legal advice or opinion from an attorney-at-law, with respect to pending or potential litigation. They did not take any votes afterward.
  • Outdoor fitness classes will continue. However, all other Town-sponsored social events have been canceled for the summer of 2020, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (including bonfires, movies on the beach, the art show and Adopt-A-Canal celebration).
  • “In general, I believe people are working very hard at social distancing and doing a good job at it” on the beach and public streets, Saxton said. There were reports of one or two parties around July 4, taking cabs to the beach with little social distancing, but plenty of alcohol. “We do allow alcohol on the beach, and we expect people to be responsible on how they do it.”
  • Although that sounded like a one-time event, council members said they expect lifeguards or police to report if such behavior becomes common or a problem.
  • As of mid-July, South Bethany had not reported any COVID-19 cases among members of the beach patrol or in the police department.
  •  As housing development continues inland, the town council is concerned about beach traffic and parking, especially around Ocean Drive. However, given the suggestion of an ordinance to limit shuttle buses on Ocean Drive, the town attorney told the council that it is not legal/feasible at this time. So the topic is being dropped for now.

The South Bethany Town Council’s next regular meeting is Friday, Aug. 14, at 10 a.m.

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.