QA, Atlantic Broadband negotiate new contract
CENTREVILLE — After long and arduous negotiations Queen Anne’s County and Atlantic Broadband have a new contract that will be ready for the commissioners to sign at their next meeting.
Cohen Law Group and a County Franchise Committee, made up of Megan DelGaudio, IT manger; Faith Elliott-Rossing, director of Community Affairs; George Harvey, QACTV director; and Gregg Todd, county administrator; have been hashing out this new agreement that brings benefits to customers, and also does not prohibit any other cable company from operating in the county if they so choose.
The bandwidth of today’s cable system is 625 MHz.
“After much negotiation with the ABB franchise team on this issue, we are pleased to report that the company committed to upgrade the cable system in the county to a minimum bandwidth of 750 MHz within 48 months of the effective date of the agreement,” said Daniel S. Cohen in the Executive Summary of Cable Franchise Agreement with Atlantic Broadband. “The upgrade must include additional fiber optic cable and new active electronics. In discussions with ABB representatives, they noted that existing amplifiers will be totally replaced, that additional nodes will be added, and that they expected the ultimate bandwidth of the system to be higher than 750 MHz.”
During the first 10-year contract with ABB, the county received about $45,000 for PEG channel support. The new agreement calls for the county to be paid $525,600 for this support over the next 10 years, said Cohen.
The complimentary services ABB gives to senior centers, volunteer fire companies, schools and several county office buildings, a value of about $60,000 will continue, Cohen said.
Elliott Rossing said she is pleased with the agreement in that QACTV, the county’s PEG channel (Public, Educational and Governmental), will be upgraded to high definition within 48 months and a second PEG channel will be made available at the county’s request.
CBG, the County’s Franchise Agreement consultant, polled the county and were able to generate a list of customer service issues that citizens wanted addressed.
“The level of customer service provided by Atlantic Broadband has been an important issue for the county,” Cohen said. “It has received complaints from residents regarding customer service problems and, therefore, the new agreement establishes a set of comprehensive and quantifiable customer service standards that may be enforced if necessary against the cable operator. These standards adopt the relevant recommendations of the FCC and add significant additional requirements.”
The customer service standards in the Franchise Agreement include, but are not limited to, the following:
• Telephone answering time limits for cable operator customer service representatives, including the duty to measure compliance with the standards after receiving subscriber complaints.
• Time limits for commencing installation, service interruption, and repair work, including limits on technicians canceling appointments with subscribers.
• A four-hour “appointment window” for service calls.
• Requirements for notices to subscribers.
• Billing requirements, including a prohibition against late fees begin assessed fewer than 30 days after the mailing of a bill.
• Customer complaint procedures for both customers and the county as well as a requirement that ABB provide updated contact information, including email addresses, in order to report customer complaints.
• Requirements to be met prior to disconnecting service.
• Credits for ser vice interruptions of 12 or more hours upon request.
• Standards of subscriber privacy.
As for addressing the underserved areas of the county, the old contract called for ABB to provide cable service in areas where there were at least 25 homes per linear mile. That figure was negotiated to 20 homes per linear mile, a 20 percent improvement.