Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Today is the last day to take part in focus groups helping chart the next 10 years or so of cable in Cambridge — but, sadly, the process has everything to do Cambridge Community Television and its affiliates and nothing to do with the experience cable consumers have with Comcast.

In fact, far from holding auditions for Comcast’s replacement, it turns out we — ugh — should be grateful to the company, despite its legendary lame customer service. That’s because there are no cable companies who want to compete with Comcast here. Cambridge and Comcast are stuck with each other.

“There is only one company interested right now — Comcast,” said Nancy Schlacter, an assistant to the city manager who is helping coordinate the cable contract procedure. “We’ve approached Verizon, and we’re not part of their business plan. We asked because everyone is asking why we don’t have Verizon.”

RCN, a cable company that competes just over the border in Somerville, looked into Cambridge a decade ago, backed out and hasn’t looked back, she said.

The current contract doesn’t run out until the end of 2010, and it’s true Verizon could come in at the eleventh hour and enter the Cambridge market, noted Susan Fleischmann, executive director of CCTV, but it’s not clear why they would. Its cable business model, for the moment, “is not to be in urban areas.” It would mean expensive upgrades in infrastructure and significant obligations to community access — the 5 percent of revenue cable companies must return to communities, by federal law, to buy equipment and fund cable access programming.

“Cable companies are resentful and trying to do away with them,” Fleischmann said of the funding obligations and other laws governing their work. “As recently as July, Verizon was trying to change state law” on ascertainments periods such as Cambridge’s, to 90 days from 36 months — hardly enough time for the online and telephone surveys, workshops and hearings that gather public opinion on CCTV’s work and examine its needs over the next 10 years. Verizon and others in the industry want to change laws at the state and federal levels, and there are 21 states that have caved.

Although no one questions the need for a rock-solid contract spelling out what Comcast must deliver, the company “is actually relatively good to deal with,” Fleischmann said, and provides for “a pretty rich line-up” for a community, including channels 9, 10 and 22.

There’s always room for improvement, of course. Nilagia McCoy, CCTV’s membership and promotions coordinator, noted Cambridge’s cable access channels have never been able to get its programs on the listings channels.

But there are really only four ways to deny a cable renewal, Fleischmann said, and probably none of those apply in this case.

“There are no alternatives right now in terms of cable television,” Fleischmann said.

The focus groups today, to be held at the Media Arts Studio at 454 Broadway, are at 10 a.m. to noon to discuss arts, culture and heritage organizations and at 4 to 6 p.m. to discuss educational institutions, educators and youth. The city’s cable hearing is likely to be in December, Schlacter said.