Comcast Updates Council On Latest Improvements, Changes

OCEAN CITY – In the digital age, staying informed about
the world around you is an easy task but it would not be so much if it was not
for those who provide the services that bring the information to area
households ever day.

Comcast of Delmarva, Ocean City’s provider of cable
television, high-speed Internet and telephone service, has been providing its
services to the area for years now. At the Mayor and City Council open session
Monday night, R. Thomas Worley, the area director of government relations and
public affairs for Comcast, approached the council to give the public an update
on Comcast’s services as well as what lies ahead.

“The result of a five-year, $150 million investment into a
Delmarva cable plant enabled us to push fiber optic lines deep into
neighborhoods and install the necessary electronic equipment to provide
advanced services such as digital cable, video on demand, high definition TV,
high speed internet and now telephone,” he said in his opening remarks.

Worley went on to say subscribers in the area have reached
43,500 and because of the increased demand for Comcast’s services they have had
to add 82 new employees just to keep up.

In addition to the launch of its new digital voice system
last year, something that is gaining in popularity according to Worley, Comcast
has also added more programming options such as a family group of channels with
more G-rated content, six new hi-def channels, five new digital channels and a
Mid-Atlantic sports network that will carry the Baltimore Orioles as well as
the Washington Nationals.

“Last December we realigned our lineup to make it more
consumer friendly by grouping channels by themes, news, children’s, sports and
so forth,” Worley added.

Comcast’s newest additions weren’t the only things to
boast about as Worley segwayed into the preemptive measures the company is
taking to prevent the customer from ever noticing there was a problem with a
particular station.

“We recently installed a system that monitors the status
of our cable plant,” he explained. “This enables us to see problems before
customers are impacted. In the past someone called, now we are able to catch
problems in advance and many customers don’t even know we’ve had a problem
because we are able to address it before it becomes evident to them.”

As for the future, Worley said Comcast will continue to
add more digital and video on demand programs, as well as launch a business
telephone product targeted at helped very small business with 21 lines or less.
However, Comcast’s main goal concerning the future of how cable television is
received is preparing the region for the Federal Communication Commission’s
(FCC) mandate to have all broadcasting done digitally by 2009.

Currently Comcast simulcasts its cable line-up, which
means they offer it in both an analog and digital format. Currently, to receive
the digital line-up, users must use a cable box or have a digital ready
television set.

Worley said Comcast does this as a way to encourage
customers to switch to an all digital line-up before the deadline comes,
something they have been doing over the past few years. He also mentioned that
by April 1, all premium channels would be available digitally as well.

Toward the end of the presentation, Mayor Rick Meehan
asked the question on everyone’s minds concerning changes in fees that may be
coming up. Worley said the fees would be rising but could not divulge how much
since they are still being finalized, but did say they will be ready by June 1.

Some local residents in attendance used the opportunity to
talk with a representative of Comcast face to face and expressed their
disapproval with some of the channels’ current line-up, saying how repeats of
programs plague afternoon television.

“We don’t program the channels, they’re programmed by the
owner of the channel,” Worley replied. “If they choose to repeat programs,
that’s going to happen, we don’t control it.”

Councilman Jay Hancock had his own questions as well,
recalling a proposal to the FCC last year that looked at allowing customers to
customize the block of programming they received, ultimately shrinking down a
package of 70 channels to an amount within the 20-something range for a price
reduction, since many people don’t view all 70 channels.

Worley addressed this as well, saying how the cable
industry and the programmers were opposed to this since it actually increased
the fee because overhead must still be covered. Although there was discussion,
no outcome or decision was made.

“We
are kind of like a magazine, you don’t read everything in a magazine or a
newspaper,” he explained. “When you start trying to split that up like take a
newspaper and start selling the editorial page separate and the sports page
separate, you have smaller populations for each one and your advertisers
couldn’t theme an age group and it creates an interesting dilemma.” 

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