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Selectmen discuss large fee increases on Charter cable bills


June 13, 2013
By Chris Maza

chrism@thereminder.com

EAST LONGMEADOW — The Board of Selectmen, along with Town Administrator Nick Breault and Cable Advisory Committee Chair W. Lloyd Oakes, discussed rising costs for East Longmeadow customers of Charter Communications.

Board of Selectmen Chair Paul Federici said the selectmen have received complaints regarding increases in public, educational and government (PEG) fees on their recent cable bills. Some of the hikes, he said, were approximately 1,000 percent.

Breault explained that the increases are a direct result of a new agreement between Charter and the town regarding the manner in which the cable company makes its contributions to the East Longmeadow Cable Access Television (ELCAT) station. In order to fund the payments to ELCAT, he said, the company passes that expense onto the consumers in the form of the PEG fee.

"The town in its last contract agreed with Charter that they would change the way that they assessed those fees by making [Charter pay] 3 1/2 percent of their gross revenues from cable services. Previous to that, there was a contract where there was a set amount that the town was looking to collect on the operational funding, which Charter then divided up by subscriber as sort of a flat fee" he said. "What they've done in this case is to take a look at an individual's bill and whatever their cable service costs are for the month, assess a fee of 3 ½ percent on that."

Breault acknowledged that the new system would create differences in fees depending upon the cable services of each household.

"You are seeing quite a jump in the fee, percentagewise, in some cases," he said.

He also said that a coding error on Charter's side resulted in the new billing practice not being implemented in 2012 as anticipated. While consumers would not be billed retroactively, he said that error may have contributed to the "sticker shock" some residents are experiencing now.

Breault also informed the board that Charter had notified him of its interest in renewing the franchise agreement, which he said would not happen for another 30 months or so.

"I would say [PEG fees] would be a prime topic of discussion for the Cable Advisory Committee," he said, adding that he and Oakes had discussed the matter earlier that day.

Oakes said with the increase, "It appears [Charter] has taken advantage" of the new contract agreement at the cost of residents.

"I have talked with them a couple of times about the fees and the only response I get is, 'Well, we're allowed by law,'" he said.

Selectman Angela Thorpe, liaison to the Cable Advisory Committee, said she would schedule a time to meet with Oakes to discuss a course of action.

Later in the meeting, Thorpe, acting as the chair of the Board of Health, announced the hiring a temporary health agent at the Board of Selectmen's June 11 meeting.

Thorpe said Aimee Petrosky is "on board and is already working on some issues."

Petrosky, formerly a health inspector for Northampton, will address health issues, including food inspections and waste disposal issues, until the town hires a full-time replacement for former Health Agent Fred Kowal.

Thorpe said she would table any discussion on the search for a full-time replacement out of respect for Petrosky, who started work on June 10.

The board also agreed to host a municipal space study in the media room at the Council on Aging on June 27 at 6 p.m.

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