Laconia told new cable TV franchise deal as good as it gets

LACONIA — Katherine Miller, the attorney represented the consortium of a dozen municipalities that negotiated the renewal of the cable television franchise agreement with MetroCast, told the City Council this week that by bargaining together the members of the consortium were able to obtain more favorable terms than most communities in New Hampshire are able to negotiate with their cable operators.

City purchasing agent Jon Gardner, who was party to the negotiations, credited Miller for the success the consortium achieved. Apart from the city, the consortium included the city of Franklin and towns of Alton, Belmont, Gilford, Gilmanton, Meredith and Tilton in Belknap County as well as Northfield, Deerfield, New Durham and Northwood.

Miller said that the cable industry is going through "a transition time" marked by rising costs for programming. "MetroCast is feeling a squeeze on their costs," she said, adding that subscribers were also feeling pinched." She noted that neither the content of programming nor the cost of service, the two issues of greatest interest to subscribers, are open to negotiation.

Under the 10-year agreement, MetroCast will continue to provide the city with Internet service connecting municipal facilities at a discounted rate not to exceed $75 per megabit a month and annual rate increases not to exceed 5 percent. Miller said the discount is "unique in my experience." The expense of this institutional network will born by the company, not its subscribers. The company also agreed to to pay property taxes for its use of public rights-of way.

The current agreement specifies that 10 new subscribers per mile are required for MetroCast to extend its system without cost. The new agreement changes the requirement to five subscribers, who pay for a year's service in advance, per half- mile, which enables the system to expand in smaller increments and less time.

The three local access channels, which have been provided by Lakes Region Public Access (LRPA), will now be managed directly by the municipalities, which may contract with LRPA or another provider. Metrocast, which has paid LRPA $30,000 per year, will instead provide grants to support the local access channels to the municipalities. The payments will consist of 75 cents per subscriber plus up to $2,500 for the capital costs of equipment or facilities. The cost of these payments will be reflected in charges to subscribers in any way. Gardner said that Laconia, with 5,378 television subscribers, will receive a grant of a little more than $4,000.