Town puts freeze on cable hike

MERRIMACK – If you subscribe to Adelphia and your bill for basic cable service goes up on Jan. 1, pay it, selectmen advised Thursday night.

But pay it knowing that town officials will work to get you a rebate for the increased cost.

However, if you’ve dished out a grand or more for a high-definition television set – well, um, selectmen beg for your patience, as Adelphia won’t be offering the adapters right away.

The Board of Selectmen took two actions Thursday regarding the town’s cable TV provider.

In the first, based on a recommendation by the town’s Cable Advisory Committee, the board voted to challenge Adelphia’s plans to impose a rate increase Jan. 1 because the company failed to file a document justifying the increase in time for the town to review the information and hold a public hearing.

In the second action, the board voted to deny Adelphia’s request for a waiver on the review process so the cable company could begin offering high-definition television – called HDTV – services in town. The board’s action was contrary to the cable committee’s position and came because of last-minute advice town counsel gave to Heather Anderson, the town’s communications director, she said.

Adelphia planned to increase the fee for basic cable service 22 percent, from $10.95 to $13.40. But the company didn’t provide the town an up-to-date FCC Form 1240 – a document as thick as a phone book – that contains cost information the company uses to justify the rate increase.

When Anderson informed the company the town never received the form, one was sent by express mail and arrived Nov. 26. However, that didn’t give the town enough time to review the information and hold a public hearing.

The form was accompanied by a letter from an Adelphia official saying no rate increase could take place before 90 days from the receipt of the form. That timeline is inconsistent with Adelphia’s plans to raise basic rates in January, Anderson said.

At Anderson’s request, selectmen voted 4-0 -Selectman Tony Pellegrino was absent – to send a letter to Adelphia officials requesting they notify subscribers there will be no rate increase in January.

The letter also directs the company to provide selectmen information on its plans for complying with the law in proceeding with future rate increases.

The board also approved Selectman David McCray’s motion to proceed with a town review of the information contained in the form and to hold a public hearing on the rate increase.

That public hearing will occur in early January, Anderson said.

“We want them to follow the law, and we want to protect our subscribers,” she said.

Likewise, the board voted 4-0 to deny the waiver for the HDTV equipment review and hold the company to the same process before it could sell adapter boxes of $7.95 to subscribers, even though that might make the board look like “bad guys” for delaying the service, selectmen said.

The board took that action knowing some people in town might be purchasing high-definition televisions for Christmas, and Adelphia officials will tell irate callers that town officials are to blame for the delay.

“You’re probably going to get a lot of phone calls,” Town Manager Dean Shankle told selectmen. “The timing on this probably couldn’t be any worse. You need to understand this is the kind of town where this will be an issue.”

So be it, Selectman Norm Carr said.

“It’s a little bit of a power play by Adelphia,” he said. “People out there want HDTV bad. If we hold them up, we’re the bad guys.”

But Carr argued it’s important to stand up to Adelphia officials, even if it means donning a black hat in the eyes of some subscribers.

“We can’t let these people (Adelphia officials) run roughshod over us and get away with it, because they love to do that,” Carr said.

With the board’s vote, a similar review process and public hearing on the rate will be held before Adelphia can offer HDTV in town.