by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Huntington Plans to Re-Bid Cable Franchise; Comcast Awaits New Agreement

HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – The City of Huntington plans to re-bid the cable franchise rights. Huntington does not have a contract with Comcast, explained City Attorney Scott McClure. Huntington did grant an automatic one year renewal, but Comcast and Huntington have not negotiated an agreement.

McClure speaking somewhat speculatively based on the final determination of the governing body and the Wolfe administration stated, “I think what we might do is put it out to bid and see if we can get any more takers. I think people here are entitled to get the best price and best services.”

He opined that the bids for Huntington service by Comcast predecessors resulted in multiple bids for the franchise. “We’ll have to back up, take a look at that, and see what’s the best deal.” Due to the complexity of the possible re-bid for the franchise, McClure could not project any timetable.

Councilman Scott Caserta told HNN that he had “not had any problems with Comcast,” but like everyone in Huntington he “would like service to be more inexpensive.” However, he said that “putting the franchise out for bid is the right thing to do. They do not have a monopoly on WV cable. We need a good , healthy vigorous debate and a healthy bid.” He added, “We might get a better offer and keep the service we have, Comcast. That’s up to them. If you want to buy a large appliance for your house, you don’t just go to one store, you shop around. This time [for the cable franchise] it’s the prudent thing to do.”

District One Councilman Jim Ritter told HNN, “I got a lot of problems with Comcast, and I get upset because my internet service does not work, I changed over just to have that and pay $150 a month. I get a recording every time I call. You can’t get through to anybody. I’d like to have somebody listen to me.”

At the Thursday work session, several council members expressed concerns regarding repeated outages, particularly those occurring during business hours.

Council Finance Chairman Steve Williams explained that there were disruptions “back in the summer.” There have not been any for Williams until the last two days.  “[Still], You can’t disrupt your business [that often].”

Bates told that “a few weeks ago” the provider notified certain businesses. The chairman said that he received a “voicemail that we are doing service upgrades and your service may be disrupted.  But I have not gotten any of those calls in three to four weeks.”

Stephanie Heck, an internet programmer and ISP provider, emphasized, “We need reliable connections for the business community in order to maintain a stable business environment in a digital age.”

Although Brandi Jacobs-Jones, director of administration and finance, told council the Wolfe administration would “open the bid for cable,” she cautioned that negotiations with Comcast are still on going. Still, she said, the contract “has expired.”

Concerns about the reliability of Comcast’s internet service arose during the Thursday work session of council. Several members noted two days of interruptions during the business day.

Alisha Martin, a senior public relations representative for Comcast, told HNN via phone that “under the terms of federal law, Comcast continues to operate under our prior (Adelphia’s) franchise agreement with the City until a new agreement is reached.”

Ms. Jacobs-Jones sat in for Mayor Kim Wolfe who was at a WV Municipal League gathering with legislators in Charleston, She kept her comments to improving the local access channels, including Channel 24, where city meetings and announcements are broadcast.

However, in some cities, the issuance of a new franchise has contained a clause allowing for competition amongst companies.

While Comcast has been re-branding its service as Xfinity and winning approval to purchase NBC/Universal, customers concern themselves with package bundles, discounts, digital and/or HD packages, and bundling complimentary internet and/or local phone services with cable.

Comparing Comcast’s digital TV lineup with nearby cities, the channels available lean heavily on regional and national sports. That’s a big cheer for fans, but sports channels have some of the highest per subscriber payouts for a cable company. Although popular, the current packages do not allow a digital premium package, for instance, that opts out of expensive sports channels such as the NFL Channel , NBA Channel , Fox Regional Sports, or MLB Channel.

Martin explained, “We are continually reviewing our channel line-up with an eye toward being able to provide more of the channels, high-definition choices and video on demand offerings that our customers want.”

Since taking over for the bankrupt Adelphia, Comcast has added HD and on-demand programming. But, has not added a few of the newer niche channels particularly some not owned by Comcast i.e. Boomerang (Classic Hanna Barbara toons from Turner Broadcasting), Sleuth (mystery series) and Chiller (horror series). In addition, Comcast removed the West Coast feeds for the Encore movie channels and has not added Encore’s multiplex which concentrates on independent flicks and more.

However, Ms. Martin stressed “Comcast did remove the duplicative [ Editor’s Note: Actually time shifted by three hours ] west coast versions of the Encore movie channels, but it is important to note that the east coast versions remained on their current locations and various popular originals and movies [from] these networks are available On Demand.”

She continued, “Concast’s signature On Demand service offers an ever growing library of more than 17,000 entertainment choices --- the vast majority of which are free --- available any time customers want to watch them with the ability to fast forward, rewind and pause selections. Customers can choose from new release movies, music, top TV shows, and independent films to the most popular kids, sports, lifestyle and local programs.”

On the other hand, the provider does offer most of the niche brands of MTV, CMT, Nick and Discovery, while expanding offerings for multi cultural viewers.