LACONIA — Many local residents have greeted with glee the possibility that Comcast will go into competition with Atlantic Broadband in offering cable television services, but the City Council is apparently in no hurry to make that happen.
On Monday night, after a presentation from Comcast representatives Bryan Christiansen and Tim Kelly, the council delayed a vote on whether to give the company a local cable franchise.
Under a proposed 10-year franchise agreement, Comcast would pay the city $9,600 yearly, or $96,000 over the life of the contract.
The Gilford Board of Selectmen last week awarded a franchise to Comcast for providing cable in that town in a pact that includes an $84,000 payment over life of the 10-year agreement.
In Laconia, Councilor Bruce Cheney, the former director of the State Division of Emergency Services & Communications, said he wants local officials, such as the fire chief and police chief, to be able to break into normal programming to deliver instructions in case of a major emergency.
“My concern is, as I understand it, Comcast uses the state’s emergency alert system, which has a number of difficulties — one is finding someone to answer the phone on a Saturday night at 10 o’clock and the second is there is no geofencing.”
Geofencing is technology for reaching people in a defined geographic area in a time of emergency.
Atlantic Broadband's franchise agreement requires it to offer the local emergency notification option. Comcast representatives say their system does not allow for it, but that there are other modern methods of notifying local residents of an emergency, including mobile notifications and a reverse 911 system. A mobile application called Code Red also offers emergency alerts.
Christiansen, the Comcast representative, said there are problems with offering a local override in times of emergency.
“We have a couple of places that have the local override,” he said. “You can’t geofence this, either. In Massachusetts, there was a boil water notification order that was put out by one community. We had 10 other communities with people boiling water.
“We found that it’s an antiquated way of going about messaging. A lot of communities have switched over to Code Red, an autodialer, reverse 911, texting, emails.”
Councilor Henry Lipman suggested tabling the franchise request while the city looks into other options of notifying people of an emergency.
After the meeting, Kelly refused comment on the City Council action.
Comcast’s request has received significant support on social media and in letters to the editor from people who say competition could bring better pricing and more programming options.
The City Council decision on whether to grant a franchise to Comcast must be based on its ability to show financial strength and technical ability. The council does not have purview over pricing or programming.
In Gilford, Town Administrator Scott Dunn said local officials were aware that Comcast would not provide local officials the ability to break into programming, but that it wasn’t an issue for them.
“The town feels it’s done through the Emergency Broadcast System and that would meet needs in an emergency,” he said.
Comcast is the nation’s largest cable company. Atlantic Broadband is No. 9.