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Mount Airy close to pact with Frederick cable firm


MOUNT AIRY -- Town residents who want to switch from Prestige Cable TV Inc. to Frederick Cablevision Inc. may be able to do so this fall, a spokesman for the Frederick company said.

"We are prepared to start work almost immediately," said Jake Tamse, director of public relations. "Our engineers have been surveying the area for some time."

The Town Council voted unanimously Monday to accept a franchise agreement with Frederick Cablevision, but town officials have not signed a final document.

Town residents wanted Prestige to compete for customers, said Robert Mead, a member of the town's cable TV commission.

"You get more for less money with Frederick," he said. "We're getting tired of the consumers' complaints, and the consumer is every bit right."

Prestige charges $22.15 a month for 39 basic channels. Frederick Cablevision has two packages -- $10.45 for 23 channels or $17.45 for 44 channels.

Prestige General Manager William Bethune said Prestige must charge higher prices because its franchise agreement with the county required the company to wire the entire county. If Prestige had wired Mount Airy separately, the company could have charged lower prices there, he said.

Prestige has about 900 subscribers in Mount Airy and about 21,300 in the county, he said.

Mead said the town's cable commission compared a proposed franchise from Frederick Cablevision with the Prestige agreement on a line-by-line basis. Where the agreements were different, the Frederick document was adjusted "to be equal" to Prestige's, he said.

Frederick H. von Unwerth, a Washington attorney for Prestige, said he saw a proposed agreement several months ago that did not create "a level playing field" for the two companies.

If the town signs a document that puts Prestige at a disadvantage, the company will talk to town officials and possibly take the matter to court, he said.

Prestige doesn't compete with other companies in any of its other service areas, von Unwerth said.

Competition is "not common in the cable industry," he said.

Frederick Cablevision was competing with another company in Walkersville, but bought it out last July, Tamse said.

Frederick Cablevision has about 38,100 customers, most of them in Frederick County, he said. The company also has 555 subscribers in Manchester and 546 in Washington County, he said.

The company could begin construction on the new system in Mount Airy about 10 days after an agreement is signed, Tamse said. It would be four to five months before customers could be hooked up, he said.

Initial hook-up fees will be less than current charges, which range from $20 to $65, because crews will be in the area, he said.

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