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Town Attorney: Cablevision contract with town up this year

COURTESY PHOTO Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr.

COURTESY PHOTO Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr.

The agreement between Shelter Island and Cablevision to provide cable service is up this year.

Town Attorney Bob DeStefano said Monday it was his understanding that the contract between the town and the Bethpage-based communications behemoth will expire near the end of the year and by summer negotiations will begin for a new contract.

The terms of the agreement signed in April 2013 set the present contract at five years, something the town fought for in negotiations that lasted nearly eight months.

Coming off a 10-year deal with Cablevision in 2013, a negotiating team of then-Town Attorney Laury Dowd and former Councilmen Ed Brown and Peter Reich set a priority to get a shorter life-of-contract than the former deal.

At the time, Mr. Reich said, “The way technology is changing we didn’t want to get married into a long term deal.”

At the January 9 Town Board work session, Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams noted that several residents who were off-Island during the snowstorm the previous week were informed by Cablevision that their service was down.

Thinking power was out, those residents phoned PSEG to inform the company that power was cut. PSEG crews went out in the blizzard to check, only to find that electricity was on but cable service was down.

Ms. Brach-Williams asked if anything could be done contractually to solve a future misunderstanding through improved communication. Mr. DeStefano said that the deal with the cable company is limited to granting Cablevision the right to run transmission lines to and on the Island.

Resident Bob Fredericks told the board that fees by Cablevision were outrageous and should be addressed. But some items are out of the hands of contract negotiators, such as specific programming and rates, which are set by the Federal Communications Commission.

Mr. Fredericks asked if other cable companies should be contacted to possibly negotiate a better deal, but Mr. DeStefano said that anecdotal evidence he’d received was that other companies were not interested because the capital investment was too steep to become profitable.

The current contract calls for 3 percent of every resident’s cable TV bill to go to town coffers as a franchise fee. (The contract is only about TV and not phone or Internet services.)

The town also received a $17,500 grant from Cablevision, plus an annual payment of $2,800 for tree trimming services gleaned from DVR fees to keep branches off lines. Two WiFi hotspots were included in the deal for Town Hall and Justice Hall.