SHIRLEY — The Select Board at its meeting Monday night signed another 10-year contract with Comcast, the town’s long-time cable TV and local internet provider.
A key component of the new deal, as with previous contracts, is that it provides funding for public access cable TV via an agreed-upon amount paid to the town, to be used solely for that purpose.
The town then cedes that money to SPACO, the non-profit outfit that provides public access cable TV services, filming public meetings and local events for live or later broadcasts on Shirley’s public access channels, plus other programming. The money comes from a surcharge on subscribers’ Comcast bills.
According to Attorney William Solomon, who represented the town in recent and past negotiations with Comcast, Shirley’s subscriber base is “typical” for a small town: 1,594 as of December 2021.
Summarizing the hefty contract document, he highlighted benefits the town gets from the deal.
One point he called “crucially important” was that by sitting down with a company official and scanning the big picture in terms of public access, state-wide, the town was able to get “the best PEG access deal” and a contract that is “one of the strongest in the Commonwealth,” he said.
He also emphasized that Comcast’s license is “non-exclusive,” so it does not prevent other cable companies from coming into town. Verizon, for example, which Chairman Debra Flagg said people have asked her about. “People want a choice,” she said.
But Verizon is not an option. The company stopped expanding in the area more than 10 years ago, the attorney explained, with no plans to extend its reach.
Still, other competitors now offer similar services, such as “5G and wireless internet,” he said.
So why stick with cable? “Cable is how your community TV is funded,” he said.
Asked about the contract period of 10 years, the longest allowed by law, he said Comcast agrees to “reassess” the arrangement, publicly,” six years in. “This is a strong contract that will serve the town well,” he said.
SPACO Director Lou Carreras agrees. In a later email, he said the contract not only ensures that Comcast will continue supporting public access for the next 10 years, it also offers an infusion of capital to upgrade older equipment, including cameras, microphones and servers at the station.
SPACO has been casting a wider net ever since the pandemic shutdown, Carreras said, filming other boards besides Select Board and School Committee meetings. The Planning Board, ZBA, Conservation Commission and the new Traffic Study Subcommittee are now covered as well, he said, plus a series of informative sessions at the Senior Center.
But added use puts more strain on SPACO’s aging infrastructure. With the added funding, they can begin “over the next several years…to build out our equipment base,” he said.