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Charter, Comcast promise Wilbraham customers a smooth transition


July 31, 2014
<strong>Comcast Government Relations Manager Aaron Saunders, left, Comcast Senior Director of Government and Regulatory Relations Steve Fitzgibbons, center, and Charter Communications Director of Government Relations Thomas Cohen, right, discussed the proposed exchange of the local cable license from Charter to Comcast.</strong><br>Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza

Comcast Government Relations Manager Aaron Saunders, left, Comcast Senior Director of Government and Regulatory Relations Steve Fitzgibbons, center, and Charter Communications Director of Government Relations Thomas Cohen, right, discussed the proposed exchange of the local cable license from Charter to Comcast.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM – At a public meeting to discuss the proposed transition of local accounts from Charter Communications to Comcast, representatives of both companies promised a smooth transition for local cable customers.

Aaron Saunders, government relations manager for Comcast, told the Board of Selectmen at its July 28 meeting that Comcast would “slip into the shoes” of Charter Communications and current Charter customers should not expect to see rate changes or encumber additional expenses through purchase of additional equipment.

The transition of the town’s cable franchise is necessary because of a pending transaction in which Comcast would acquire Time Warner Cable Inc. As part of the transaction, Comcast and Charter will exchange 1.5 million Time Warner customers and 1.6 million Charter subscribers.

“Charter is very interested in this transaction as well. We are a large company nationwide, operating in 29 states, but we have a very small New England presence,” Thomas Cohen, director of government relations for Charter, said. “We’re proposing to swap our New England systems to Comcast and in return picking up about 1.5 million Time Warner customers from the Midwest. This is a transaction that is contingent upon the Comcast/Time Warner deal.”

Steve Fitzgibbons, senior director of government and regulatory relations, told Reminder Publications the target close date was sometime near the end of the year. Saunders said transaction would add 10 local communities to the Comcast service area, plus some outlying towns in the Berkshires.

Saunders explained the hearing was to ascertain whether Comcast had the legal, managerial, technical and financial abilities to take over the current license held by Charter.

“We believe we do,” he said. “We operate a number of franchises, 240 to be exact, including 36 here in western Massachusetts that from a management perspective and a technical perspective have allowed us to provide service to a many tens of thousands of residents throughout western Massachusetts.”

Fitzgibbons touted the company’s corporate philanthropy in the communities it serves.

“We plan to continue to be a vibrant community partner,” he said.

Through the Comcast Foundation, he said more than $3.2 billion had been given back to the local communities since 2001. In 2014, he noted, $730,000 in Leaders and Achievers scholarships were distributed in the New England region.

He also pointed to the Comcast Cares Day, which he called the largest corporate volunteer day in the country.

Addressing technology concerns, Saunders told the board and Public Access Television Director Anthony Aube that there would be an adjustment from the current technology, which allows for analogue service, because Comcast has undergone a complete transition to digital service that would require a new receiver for each television. However, Comcast would agree to offer the digital converter boxes without charge for up to three televisions.

Saunders also said rates would remain constant for customers, including seniors who receive a discount.

When asked about whether the Charter office located in Ludlow would remain open and operated by Comcast, Saunders said as part of the exchange, Ludlow customers would also be swapped and Comcast would have to honor agreements in the license with Ludlow. Therefore, if language exists in that license regarding the continued existence of a customer service office, it would remain. He also noted that Comcast has another local customer service office in Springfield.

In other business, the board postponed its discussion on candidates for a search committee for a new town administrator.

Chair Robert Russell said that because it was an important process and Selectman Robert Boilard was not able to be in attendance, it was prudent to table the issue until the board’s next meeting.

The board also accepted the recommendation of the Police Station Feasibility Study Committee to retain Tecton Architects as the firm to conduct the survey of potential sites and designs for the building that would replace the current Main Street station, which at more than 100 years old is the oldest municipal building in town.

The committee had voted to unanimously support Tecton, which designed and oversaw construction during the renovation of the main fire station on Boston Road, at its July 21 meeting.

The board also took time to recognize three longstanding town employees, presenting certificates to Melissa Graves, Building Department administrative assistant, Police Capt. Timothy Cane and Lisa Bouchard, Police Department administrative assistant. Graves has worked for the town for 10 years, while Cane and Bouchard have served the community for 20 years.

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