Seal of the Town of South Bethany, Delaware

As local towns prepare to renegotiate their cable TV franchise agreements with Mediacom, South Bethany Town Hall decided to get some official public feedback.

In a recent online survey, they asked South Bethany customers to comment on all aspects of Mediacom service: television, internet and home telephone. Although one could argue that few people are truly satisfied with these services, regardless of the company providing them — the survey results showed definite desire for improvement in South Bethany.

Mediacom has a franchise agreement for cable TV in South Bethany and various other local municipalities. The current agreement expires on July 10, although it can be extended for negotiations. Mediacom is the only cable TV option in the town, and many neighboring towns, although property owners can choose other television services, including streaming TV over the internet or satellite television. For many, Mediacom is the only viable option for high-speed internet access.

While Mediacom isn’t a true monopoly in the area, since other providers could choose to come in and provide service, efforts to lure other high-speed internet providers into the area have gone on for years but have failed, with companies including Verizon dismissing the necessary infrastructure costs as too high unless nearly all local customers switched their services to Verizon.

“They own all of the hardware that they put in here,” said South Bethany Town Councilman Dick Oliver, who researched the topic years ago for the Town, of Mediacom. “It would be very costly for another carrier to come in and buy their infrastructure, those lines, which would discourage them from coming in here.”

“Our contract with them is essentially about cable TV … but internet plays a strong role,” said Council Member Sue Callaway, who initiated the survey.

As a pattern emerged, the Town discovered 10 main issues, mostly relating to cost; reliable and consistent service; technical staff; customer service and communication; equipment; and channel selection.

“My recommendation is that we can’t sign another long-term contract with Mediacom without making a real sincere effort to say, ‘These are our 10 things you’ve got to demonstrate improvement on,’” Calloway said.

In the past, South Bethany negotiated together with several neighboring towns, although each had their own contract. This year, due to more differing services, South Bethany will negotiate alone.

The don’t have a lot of leverage, but they can remind Mediacom of what the company has to lose: customers.

“In reading the comments and the other alternatives that people have here … I think the important message to Mediacom would be: you stand to lose these customers and … the revenue that they have.”

South Bethany is looking at public quality of life, as well as town revenues, since they receive a percentage of each customer contract as their payment for permitting Mediacom to install its equipment, including the cable lines, in town rights-of-way.

About 410 people responded to the survey, some skipping various questions, and 383 said they currently subscribe to Mediacom services: 360 use high-speed internet, 292 have cable TV, and 132 use its telephone service. (The results did does not clarify who overlaps services).

People provided 29 pages worth of written comments, which ranged from frustrated (“Our home does not have the bottom internet package. The speed and connection is terrible. Cannot watch Netflix and use the WiFi at the same time.”) to pragmatic (“Like all cable/internet providers, they are charging way too much for inconsistent service”) to defeated (“I actually did not disconnect my service during the winter this year … because re-hooking up service has become a nightmare.”) to kind (“The two ladies who are at the customer service desk in Dagsboro are outstanding … very helpful and knowledgeable.”).

Of those 364 who rated the quality of Mediacom’s current cable TV services, about two-thirds called the service “poor” or “fair” while about a third called it “good” or “excellent.”

In rating Mediacom on the cost of internet service compared to the overall value, 61 percent said “poor,” 31 percent said “fair,” and only single digits allowed for “good” or “excellent.”

The majority of people who got phone service from Mediacom did so for discounted package/pricing.

The survey also investigated costs, HD channels, the mobile app, website, visits to the office and the street wires.

To continue Mediacom negotiations this summer, the town council formed a working group with Callaway, Oliver, Mayor Tim Saxton and Town Manager Maureen Hartman.

“We want to see some progress before we go to contract,” agreed Saxton. “I think we should take the time to have this dialogue so that the people’s voice is heard.”

The full survey results are posted online at southbethany.delaware.gov.

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.