Amherst Select Board to hold hearing Wednesday to discuss future of town’s Comcast contract

By Gabe Smith

Mike Mozart/Flickr
Mike Mozart/Flickr

Members of the Amherst Select Board, along with residents and employees of the region, will meet Wednesday in South Meeting Room 101 of the Bangs Center at 11 a.m. to discuss the future of the town’s relationship with regional cable provider Comcast.

The board held a hearing last Thursday at the town hall concerning renewing the licensing of Comcast. The hearing record is considered open until Oct. 5 at noon.

At Thursday’s meeting, townspeople felt that the cable provider has provided satisfactory service in some respects, while simultaneously being indifferent to the basic needs of the customer in others.

Several customers praised the efforts and service of Comcast. The town’s information technology director, Sean Hannon, thanked the telecommunications company for the years of service and providing the crucial fiber optic cables that link many key buildings in and around the town.

The majority of attendees commended Comcast, complimenting it for the provision of basic services.

Other chairs in the stuffy, carpet-scented meeting room, however, were occupied by more opinionated locals. Several customers identified Comcast’s “monopolistic practices” as a significant issue.

“We’re dealing with a monopoly,” John Nelson, professor emeritus of English at the University of Massachusetts said. “Suppose there were five companies competing for your entertainment money, the results would be different and the costs would be different.”

Nelson was not the only one who was upset by the lack of choice for cable providers in the region. Many said they are forced to buy from Comcast because, even though there is the option of having a satellite dish for television service, there are too many trees in the area that would block the signal.

James Lescault, executive director of Amherst Media, said he was baffled that Comcast has most of the town connected with modern and efficient fiber optic cables, while the public, education and government access stations (channels 12, 15 and 17 respectively) continue to operate and broadcast with outdated coaxial cables.

Other people spent most of their allotted three-minute testimonies deriding Comcast for a multitude of issues ranging from poor billing practices to intimidating, complex bundle packages.

One customer testified she consistently receives her bills late from Comcast, which sometimes causes her to pay them late, resulting in fees.

Another customer said it was very difficult to get the channel package she wanted. She said she wanted to purchase the most basic and cheap bundle package possible but it was not available on the brochure. She said she was going to walk out of the service center without buying anything when a service representative stopped her and offered her what she had wanted all along.

One woman, a property manager in Amherst, made public that she couldn’t keep a house on Pulpit Hill Road rented because it has no cable service while all of the neighboring houses do. The only explanation Comcast offered was that the previous owner didn’t pay their bills. Comcast then offered to reinstall cable at the house for upwards of $7,000.

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Gabe Smith can be reached at [email protected]