As the Town of Bourne prepares to enter negotiations to renew its cable TV license with Comcast, a list of needs that will improve Bourne Community Television’s broadcast capabilities has been drafted. The list includes an increase in Bourne Community TV’s operational budget to allow the hiring of more full-time staff to cover more effectively board and committee meetings as well as community activities across the town.
The list, referred to as an Ascertainment of Needs, was compiled by the Bourne Cable Advisory Committee and presented to the Bourne Board of Selectmen during its meeting September 7. Committee chairman Robert M. Frangieh addressed the board during the meeting.
Mr. Frangieh said the town has entered formal negotiations with Comcast, and developing the needs list was Phase One of the process. He said that negotiations are Phase Two. A total of 13 items comprise the ascertainment of needs list presented to the selectmen.
Topping the list is the need for more staff and equipment “to produce more community content.” The additional staff, the report said, would provide opportunities for Bourne High School students and staff “to produce and participate in BCTV operations.”
Bourne Community TV is also in need of more room to operate as well as upgraded equipment and furniture. Content aired on Bourne Community TV is broadcast in standard definition, not high definition. High definition is desirable to keep Bourne Community TV competitive in the marketplace, the report said.
The list also calls for closed captioning, inclusion of local community information on Comcast’s electronic programing guide and upgrades to the wiring infrastructure throughout the town “to be reliable and adequately maintained.” The report notes instances of wiring replacement in various neighborhoods to resolve issues with cable service.
“The town needs Comcast to implement a proactive rather than a reactive approach to ensuring the wiring infrastructure is up-to-date,” the report said.
Mr. Frangieh advised the selectmen that the town cannot negotiate the rates charged by Comcast, nor can it negotiate Comcast’s content, the channels that the company provides. Factors the town can negotiate with Comcast include funding to Bourne Community TV, annual payments and capital budgets.
“That’s really what we focused on in our findings,” he said.
Mr. Frangieh said the process of developing the ascertainment of needs included meeting with Bourne Community TV director of operations Jennifer McGrail, taking a tour of the station and talking with town residents. He said that, “to put it bluntly, they’ve been kind of running on scraps from my estimation for the last 10 years.” Bourne Community TV, he said, is “due for a little bump.”
“We’re excited to see hopefully what the next 10 years will bring in,” he said, “and what you guys can negotiate with Comcast.”
Board member George G. Slade recalled being invited to take a tour of the Bourne Community TV studio a couple of years ago. Mr. Slade said the tour was “quite informative” and suggested that another tour in the near future would be helpful heading into negotiations. He said the needs compiled by the advisory committee “are eye-openers.”
The cable advisory committee was established in February 2020. According to its charge, the committee’s responsibility is to “conduct and follow tasks, provide an advisory role in the process to negotiate and approve new or renewal licenses with the town’s cable provider and make recommendations to the issuing authority (the board of selectmen).”
Comcast’s contract with the Town of Bourne expires on March 17, 2022. Under the current contract, Comcast gives back 3 percent of its revenues to be used by Bourne Community TV for its operations. Board chairman Peter J. Meier asked if the advisory committee was recommending a hike from 3 percent to 5 percent in the percentage of revenue paid to the town by Comcast. Mr. Frangieh confirmed that is the committee’s recommendation.
Mr. Meier also pointed out that people who have Direct TV, DISH TV and/or Verizon DSL internet can stream BCTV online for free. He questioned whether there is a way for the town to get those companies, in addition to Comcast, “to force these other people to pay.”
“It’s not fair to have the Comcast subscribers footing the bill for it,” he said, “when they get their monthly bill.”
Mr. Frangieh said that was a point worth pursuing during negotiations with Comcast. He said it was a subject that the cable advisory committee had broached during the ascertainment process.
“Hopefully that is something you guys take into account when you’re negotiating,” he said.
The board of selectmen voted unanimously in favor of accepting the ascertainment of needs report, which included operating and capital budgets for Bourne Community TV, as compiled by the cable advisory committee. The motion included a proviso that the board reserves the right to modify the findings and the budgets during negotiations with Comcast.