After more than a year operating under an expired contract, Haverhill has come to an agreement with Comcast, which will continue to provide cable TV, phone and internet service to Haverhill under a new 10-year contract.
As part of the agreement, Comcast will pay the city $1.3 million per year for local programming and $110,000 per year for public communications infrastructure, officials said.
The local programming money was negotiated under a federal law that allows up to 5% of the provider’s gross annual revenues from customers go back to the community. The money can only be used for community access programming and public cable-related needs.
The city must still negotiate with HC Media, Haverhill's community television station, to determine how much money that organization will receive under the new contract.
The city was also able to negotiate new payments totaling $1.3 million over the life of the contract for capital improvements that can be used for things like renovating and upgrading communications equipment in City Council Chambers and the City Hall auditorium.
The non-exclusive license, which was negotiated by the city’s Cable Advisory Committee and special counsel William Solomon, includes provisions that allow the city to continue efforts to attract a second telecommunications company to Haverhill to compete with Comcast.
"I commend the cable committee,” Mayor James Fiorentini said in announcing the agreement last week. “They worked really hard to recruit another company to come here so that there would be competition. They invited companies in, interviewed them, but no other company was interested and only Comcast bid. But we are not going to give up our quest to find another company. This is a nonexclusive agreement, so another company is welcome at any time."
The mayor and residents have been frustrated for many years over lack of interest in the city from other cable companies. The mayor said he has attempted to attract Verizon, RCN and other companies by providing various incentives, but to no avail.
Verizon and others have said they are either not expanding in Massachusetts or that coming to Haverhill would be too expensive due to the high cost of installing communications infrastructure in one of the state’s largest geographical cities. Haverhill has about 34 square miles.
In 2012, Verizon announced it would not be expanding FiOS beyond the communities it was already serving.
Another reason often cited is that Comcast already has such a large share of the cable marketplace that not enough of its almost 20,000 Haverhill customers could be expected to switch to a new provider to make it profitable.
A new feature of the agreement requires Comcast to continue providing communications, including data, video and telephone services to city offices and school buildings. The so-called “I-Net” package covers 33 buildings over 44 miles. Many cable companies have discontinued this service in new municipal agreements and it was a much-debated aspect of negotiations, according to the mayor.
The city can opt out of the so-called I-Net agreement in 2022 if it finds a better alternative for servicing public buildings, the mayor said.
In addition to Comcast channels 9, 22 and 99, Comcast must create a high definition channel for local programming within 36 months.
The existing senior discount will continue under the new contract.
"Along with my committee and special counsel, we have been working on this license for nearly four years,” said Bill Gould, chairman of the city’s Cable Advisory Committee. "Despite changing federal (FCC) rulings and changes in cable TV viewing habits, I feel we have negotiated the best possible cable license for the people of Haverhill while also making sure we are able to take advantage of new technology, services and providers when they become available.”
The mayor expects to sign the new agreement soon. After that, he intends to keep the advisory committee together for the purpose of continuing to try to recruit another cable company or expanding broadband in the city.
The agreement is posted on the city’s website at cityofhaverhill.com/news_detail_T30_R39.php.