BEVERLY — The city has begun negotiations with Comcast on a new contract to provide cable TV services in the city. The current 10-year contract expires on May 3.
The negotiations include how much Comcast will pay to fund BevCam, the local access company that covers city meetings, high school sports and other local events. The contract does not cover the price of cable service or which programs Comcast offers, which by law the city has no control over, according to BevCam Executive Director Walt Kosmowski.
“Those two items are non-negotiable in terms of a franchise agreement,” Kosmowski said.
The big issue in the negotiations is the setting of what is called the “franchise fee,” a monthly charge that is paid by subscribers and helps fund the operations of BevCam. Cable companies are required by law to fund local access channels in exchange for the right to use city property such as utility poles for their infrastructure. But the companies are allowed to pass on those costs to subscribers through the franchise fee, which is set as a percentage of Comcast’s revenue from the city’s subscribers.
Comcast currently pays 2.9% of its Beverly revenues for the franchise fee, which Kosmowski said is one of the lowest percentages in the state. Most are in the 4.5% to 5% range, he said. Five percent is the highest allowed by law.
The current franchise fee for Comcast’s approximately 14,000 Beverly subscribers is $3.66 per month. Kosmowski said BevCam received about $400,000 in operating expenses and $50,000 in capital expenses from Comcast in 2020.
As part of the negotiations, Kosmowski said BevCam would like to add a fourth channel that is high definition; add close-captioning for city meetings; and be included on the electronic program guide that gives viewers information on specific shows. Currently, BevCam programming is listed on the guide as simply “local access,” rather than, for example, “City Council meeting.”
Brendan Sweeney, the chair of the Beverly Cable TV Advisory Committee, said the committee wants to take a longer term look at the future of cable and internet service in the city, beyond the current contract negotiations with Comcast. He said the committee is hoping to conduct a survey to assess trends in the city in terms of cable versus streaming services and other issues.
“How do we, generally speaking, see the future of internet and cable in the city?,'” Sweeney said.
While Comcast is the only company providing cable service in Beverly, Sweeney noted that the city is not barring other companies from competing with Comcast. Kosmowski said the city has tried in the past to entice competitors, with no success.
Companies that want to offer cable service in Beverly would have to spend the money build out their own network. Verizon has said in the past that it had no plans to operate in Beverly. The company did not return a message for this story.
Sweeney and Kosmowski said the city will hold a public hearing regarding the contract with Comcast before it is finalized.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.