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Mediacom answer questions during Ocean Pines town hall

(April 9, 2015) Mediacom attempted to answer questions from the community during a brief town hall at the Ocean Pines community center on Tuesday, March 31.
Pat Hynes, area director of operations from the Dagsboro office, gave a brief introduction.
During the past year, Hynes said, Mediacom “went to a digital platform” system-wide, growing from 68 to 82 channels in the “family TV lineup,” moving from 33 to 56 high definition [HD] channels in the package and adding 20 new “premium HD” channels, including additional HBO, Showtime and Starz offerings.
Hynes said Mediacom began carrying the security system “Home Controller” in July, and in September added additional bandwidth as well as the digital video recording service TiVo.
Mediacom also added local NBC affiliate WRDE and MeTV.
“Everybody, I think, was very happy to see those channels added,” Hynes said.
Just over a dozen Ocean Pines residents were in attendance, and many had questions.
Asked about the plethora of service trucks in the area, Hynes said Mediacom was “trying to identify any bad lines and get rid of them.”
“We have three gentleman down here,” Hynes said. “You probably see them all the time, they live in the Pines. And we have a minimum of usually four techs per day working in the Pines. We’re trying our best to identify any bad lines you have in here, and get those out of the ground and reburied just to improve your reception with your video and your high-speed data.”
One resident complained of seeing several open junction boxes with exposed wires in the area.
Hynes said the wires were watertight, but added, “still, we shouldn’t have those boxes open.”
“The cable we use is an underground cable,” Hynes said. “It’s got what they call a ‘flooding compound,’ so if it gets a nick on it the compound comes out and seals the cable.
“Water shouldn’t affect it, however if you’ve got an old line, anything’s possible,” Hynes added.
Mediacom, Hynes said, did not lay the original cable lines in the community.
“Our technicians, when they go out to a service call and they see that 59 cable buried, the first thing they do is get rid of that,” Hynes said. “We put in for a new line. That’s what should happen.”
Many residents complained of sporadic “tiling,” or pixelated video, usually at night or just before or during storms.
Hynes said the problem could be due to “a hundred different things” and offered to take down names and addresses, and follow up with each complaint after the meeting.
According to the Mediacom website, tiling can often be fixed by rebooting the set top box. To do this, unplug the box’s power cord from the wall outlet or power strip, wait 20 seconds, and plug the cord back in. The set top box will cycle through the start-up process and may take up to 20 minutes to reload. Guide channel information will display “to be announced” until the box is fully reloaded.
Similarly, unplugging a modem or router, waiting 20 seconds, and plugging the device back in can often remedy a poor Internet signal.
Another resident complained about the rates in Ocean Pines.
“I just have television. I don’t have internet or telephone,” he said. “I’m a widower and I only have social security. I need some help with these bills because they’re going up every month. It’s $100 now.”
The resident said he was a veteran and that he had tried to reduce his television package with no success.
Carrie Boggs, regional government operations manager, said the company did not offer financial assistance.
“We unfortunately do not do any type of senior discount or veteran discount,” she said, adding Mediacom did offer seasonal savings.
Boggs said part of the increase in billing occurred when the company began instituting a local broadcast surcharge in 2012 to offset costs.
“For a very, very long time [local channels] were free over the air and they didn’t charge anything to any cable company, from Comcast to Mediacom to a local mom and pop cable company, to rebroadcast their signals,” Boggs said.  
Boggs said “many years ago,” local channels changed that practice and began charging a rebroadcast fee on a per-customer basis.
“Most of the cable industry absorbed the smaller costs for a little while, and then it just became too burdensome on the company,” Boggs said. “After all, we are a business.”
According to Boggs, surcharges from local channel affiliates grew from a $12 million industry in 2005 to a $2.4 billion industry in the next seven years.
“It’s an 8,600 percent increase in seven years, which is not a cost that the cable industry could just absorb themselves without passing it along to customers,” Boggs said. “So, starting in 2012 Mediacom did instigate a local broadcast surcharge.”
Boggs said the charge was $3.91 per customer.
“That is how much we pay local broadcasters for the ability to give you those local channels, your ABC, your NBC, your CBS, your FOX,” Boggs said.
Boggs went on to say that Mediacom was unable to offer one what resident termed “a total cafeteria package.”
“A lot of our channels are tied to other channels,” she said. “For instance, Disney owns ESPN. NBC Universal is tied to SyFy, to USA. All of those channels are a bundle package that, when we negotiate with NBC Universal, with Viacom, with Disney/ESPN, it’s an all-or-nothing package. We don’t get to pick and choose.”
Mediacom unsuccessfully petitioned the FCC in July to allow for per-channel pricing, Boggs said.
“We are all for a la carte pricing,” she said. “Every customer wants to pick the channels that they want to watch and just pay for the channels they want to watch. Unfortunately that’s not how the networks want you to watch.”
Mediacom also charges customers a regional sports surcharge, as well as a $3.50 franchise fee, the latter of which goes to Ocean Pines to offset Mediacom use of “rights of way,” according to Boggs.
“We pay it to Ocean Pines so that they can invest it in your community,” Boggs said. “That franchise fee has been there for quite some time. All of our franchises work that way. We have franchises at the state level, at the community level, at the county level in all different ways and it’s the exact same thing.”
Boggs offered to look at customer bills and provide additional feedback following the meeting.
Representatives from Mediacom said the company would continue holding annual meetings in the community, although no date was set to meet during the following year.