The Halifax Board of Selectmen's Office has received a number of inquiries about a new charge on bills received by subscribers to Comcast's cable television service.
Since the origination of cable television service in Halifax, the company providing that service, first Harron, then Adelphia, now Comcast, has run a public access studio in Halifax. The studio filmed various government meetings and Halifax events and provided an opportunity for residents to create their own programs. All this was paid for by the revenues that the cable companies derived from the subscribers and were part of the bill paid by the subscribers.
While the cable companies could have shown these costs as a separate item on the subscribers' bills, they chose not to do this. These operations were never free, never a donation by the cable company, but were required by the licensing agreements between the Town of Halifax and the cable companies.
The new licensing agreement between Comcast and the Town of Halifax, signed earlier this year, stipulates that Comcast will cease running the studio at the end of 2014. Comcast was not interested in continuing to run the studio (in almost all other Comcast communities, public access is provided by a non-profit organization) and the Town could not require that Comcast continue to do so. The Town of Halifax is working with the Town of Carver, which has its own non-profit organization running public access programming, to merge operations.
Comcast has decided to, and has every right to, separate out the costs of public access and show it as a specific charge on the bills of subscribers. However, while this cost is shown as a line item on the bill, Comcast has not removed that cost from the main part of the bill paid by subscribers. In essence, Comcast is charging subscribers in two places for the costs of public access, the amount that remains in the main part of the bill (which it will keep) and the amount shown as the franchise fee, which will be sent to the Town of Halifax for public access programming.
Because Comcast was able to run the studio as part of its overall operations, its costs were less than what the Town will need to spend to provide public access programming. Therefore, the amount of the franchise fee will be higher than the amount that Comcast originally included in its bills.
Any subscribers with questions about the franchise fee can contact the Halifax Board of Selectmen's Office at 781-294-1316.