NJ: City Finds Promise of Cable Competition Lacking

Posted on July 11, 2007 - 7:00am.

from: NJ.com

Vineland denies Comcast
Wednesday, July 11, 2007

VINELAND -- City council voted to deny Comcast's application to renew their 15-year contract with the city during its regular meeting Tuesday night.

Comcast of South Jersey LLC, Vineland's only cable provider, has had a 15-year contract with Vineland giving the company franchise in the city.

This has meant that city residents have not had a choice in cable providers.

In May, Comcast asked the city to renew the franchise, which expires Sept. 10. But city officials had reservations about the lack of benefits Vineland would receiving in exchange for being tied up with Comcast for another 15 years.

"They (Comcast) are trying to rely on the old ways while we're trying to move forward with the new," said Mayor Perry Barse, speaking to the council before the vote, urging them to deny the application.

Barse said the financial benefits for signing with Comcast for another 15 years comes out to about 7 cents per resident per year -- 8.5 cents if the city opts for the 25-year plan also offered by the cable company.

"I find this insulting, and we are not interested in such a deal. To rely on the past puts us behind the 8-ball."

Instead, Barse said he would like to see the benefits of the August 2006 state law updating New Jersey's 30-year-old cable television regulations seen in Vineland and other surrounding communities.

The System-Wide Cable Television Franchise Act, signed into law by Gov. Jon Corzine, and commonly known as the "Verizon Bill," was meant to limit the amount of regulations facing cable providers, making it easier for new companies to enter an area and create competition.

The "new way," according to Barse, means the average franchise contract lasts seven years, despite Comcast's insistence on a 15-year deal.

Verizon had lobbied the mayor's office heavily in order to get support for the bill, according to Barse.

But, even now, Verizon is still unable to bring its services to the area, and is not responding to city officials asking for a time table.

"I knew we'd come to this," said state Sen. Nick Asselta, of Vineland, explaining why he and others voted against the 2006 cable law. Asselta spoke to the council after Barse.

"It was bad legislation that was pushed by Verizon, and now they're backing down," said Asselta. "No meeting with Verizon is ever going to get them down here."

The state senator recommended submitting something to the Board of Public Utilities, the cable television regulatory body in New Jersey, to try and sort out the situation.

Comcast now has 30 days to petition the BPU, contesting city council's decision.

Barse said that the city will meet again with Comcast to try and work something out until Verizon is able to add some competition to the market.

Barse said state Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew will be meeting with representatives from Verizon to try to find out when the company would be able to extend its service to Vineland.

The mayor added, "Anything else but competition would smack in the face of everything we've been trying to do here."