As part of an agreement signed yesterday that transfers Carroll County's cable franchise from the bankrupt Adelphia Communications Corp. to Comcast Corp., more than 30,000 local subscribers will receive about $33 in credit on their bills as early as next month, officials said.
The credit is a disbursal of the county's $1 million settlement with Adelphia.
"We are not creating revenue, but using this money to benefit those using the system," said Ted Zaleski, county director of management and budget. "Comcast is buying the local franchise and the agreement. I am not sure subscribers will see any big difference other than maybe technical improvements."
The county cable commission has been negotiating for several years with the now-bankrupt cable company, which is being acquired by Comcast Corp., said Ken Decker, town manager of Hampstead and cable commission chairman.
The cable commission, besieged with complaints from customers, threatened to sue Adelphia over unresolved issues - mostly concerning poor customer service - in the franchise agreement.
"The money accommodates our contention that our intentions with this franchise were not met," said County Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "There is only so much we can do other than make sure cable TV does not rape and pillage."
Minnich said he is reluctant to involve government any further in what is a rapidly changing technology.
The settlement must be reviewed by the federal bankruptcy court in New York that is handling the Adelphia case, Decker said.
"The commission hopes this settlement benefits those who suffered with Adelphia over the years," Decker said. "We are looking for higher-quality technical support and service from Comcast. We have to think of them as an improvement."
The pact, signed by the county commissioners, also requires the cable franchise to provide the Community Media Center with $125,000 annually in operating money, most of which will produce local programs.
The center eventually will replace the local cable Channel 3, which has moved to Frederick and will be phased out.
"Clearly, Adelphia in bankruptcy is being broken apart and sold," Decker said. "With this transfer, we are trying to resolve contractual disputes and maybe make for better programming."
County Commissioner Perry L. Jones said he would like to see competition for the franchise.
"There is nothing to prevent that within existing laws and technology," said Zaleski. "But there is not a great deal of incentive. Comcast does not have to share its infrastructure. You would have to find a cable provider with a willingness to build its own infrastructure."