Cable concerns aired by council

12 years ago

    HOULTON, Maine — Television plays an important part in the lives of many people. Therefore it stands to reason that few things concern people more than price increases to their cable television service.
    The Houlton Town Council addressed some of those issues Monday evening when it met with Cathy Donovan, vice president of finance for Polaris Cable Services. Polaris Cable, which is affiliated with WAGM-TV 8, is the sole provider of cable service to the Houlton area.
On March 1, cable subscribers will see an increase in their bills. The cost of Polaris’ limited basic service will go from $19.90 to $23.40, while the HD basic package, will increase from $50.25 to $53.25. The Digital plan is increasing from $68.80 to $72.80.
“We had not increased our rates for the past two years,” Donovan said. “At this time, what we are doing with our programming increases is passing on hard costs to our subscribers. It’s something we do not want to do. Our programming increases are actually more than what we are passing on.”
She said the reason for the rate hike was due to increased costs from content providers.
“Smaller cable operators do their best to negotiate rates, but at the end of the day the programmers can raise their rates 10 percent a year,” she explained. “We do our best to keep the programming increases down.”
In 2012, Polaris Cable was in a negotiating year with its programmers for its networks — NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox. The cost for those networks increased 50 percent over previous years. Increases in the cost for regional sports networks, such as NESN, also went up, she said.
The number of subscribers in Houlton has declined in recent years, Donovan said. In 2009, there were 1,474 subscribers, while in 2010 there were 1,355. Final numbers for 2011 were not readily available. Donovan said the decrease in subscribers is due to a variety of reasons, but particularly it was the increased competition from satellite providers such as DirecTV and Dish Network.
She added that Polaris is in the process of adding popular DVR (digital video recording) services to its line of products offered. That addition is anticipated sometime in 2012.
Polaris recently sent notice to its subscribers making them aware of the increased cost. She said her company had received relatively few phone calls from subscribers complaining of the increase.
Some councilors, however, said they had received phone calls from constituents expressing concerns over the rising costs and the continued practice of blocking out WABI TV (channel 5) at different times of the evening.
“I don’t get a whole lot of calls about things, but the one thing people do call about is their cable,” Councilor Sue Tortello said. “There are a number of people who are still upset over how channel 5 is being interrupted. An increase in rates is a hard pill to swallow when they are not getting to see the television they want to see. People feel their complaints are not being heard.”
Several councilors stated they no longer subscribe to cable television, instead opting for satellite programming packages for various reasons.
Donovan said she encouraged anyone with questions or concerns to call the Houlton office at 532-2579.

Civic Center discussion
The other topic generating the greatest amount of discussion was the John Millar Civic Center building. An advisory board has been formed to take a closer look at the Civic Center and its operating budget. Councilors Mike Jenkins and Robbie Hannigan were named as council representatives to the committee, as were Dan Peabody, president of the Southern Aroostook Amateur Hockey Association; Bruce Nason, representing the Houlton-Hodgdon Blackhawks hockey team; and Jennifer Cloney, a member from the general public.
Council chairman Paul Cleary said he hoped to hear regular reports from the committee as the group seeks out new ways to market the facility.
In other agenda items, the council:
• Accepted a grant of $4,510 from the Maine Emergency Management Agency to be used by the Houlton Police Department to upgrade its dispatching software.
• Awarded a bid of $28,993 to York’s of Houlton for the purchase of a 2013 Ford Explorer police vehicle.
The next regular council meeting is set for Monday, March 12 at 6:30 p.m.