PEPPERELL -- On Thursday, selectmen approved the transfer of control of the cable-television license of Charter Communications, Inc., to Comcast Corps.
The hearing was held to consider the change of control based on review of Comcast's managerial, technical, financial and legal ability to operate the cable system pursuant to the existing Charter license due to expire October 2021. In addition, selectmen wanted to hear Comcast's commitment to community programming and educational and governmental access.
"I know Comcast meets all the criteria you have to look at when considering this transaction," said Thomas Cohan, director of Government Relations at Charter Communications.
The transition of cable providers is part of a larger pending Comcast and Charter Communications transfer. Comcast wants to acquire Charter's customers in 53 Massachusetts towns in addition to several towns in the New England area.
In exchange, Charter will get a cluster of Time Warner customers in the Midwest. Comcast will be purchasing those customers from Time Warner in a separate negotiation. Both deals are contingent upon Federal Communications Commission approval.
Both companies said they hope to start the transfer by the end of the year, but a concrete date will be decided after FCC's answer.
The board, Lawrence Library Director Debra Spratt and Richard Potts, president of Pepperell Community Media, Inc.
"We are prepared to say tonight that we will adhere to all contractional obligations that Charter entered to with the town of Pepperell," said Tim Murnane, Comcast's vice president of External Affairs in the Greater Boston area.
If the transfers occur, Charter customers will be able to keep their current channel subscriptions for the time being, but eventually will be contacted to choose Comcast packages.
Pepperell customers will also still be able to watch the Pepperell public-access channel.
Murnane said details on whether customers will be able to keep Charter cable boxes or have to change to Comcast boxes are still unclear at this point of the negotiations.
"In trying to get rates I was told that your rates change daily and that's a little disconcerting," said Spratt.
Murnane said there are different marketing initiatives which cause prices to change frequently.
Potts addressed another concern. He wanted to make sure Comcast will honor the annual flag-raising in Pepperell that Charter has done over the years.
Murnane said he assured Potts he will try his best to keep community traditions around after Charter leaves.
Comcast will offer two community programs to Pepperell customers. On the annual Comcast Cares Day, the company brings their employees to town to help make local change.
Another community initiative is a scholarship program where principals and guidance counselors are asked to identify high-school seniors for the Comcast Leaders and Achievers award in recognition of a student's community service and academic achievement. Since 2001, it has awarded 21,000 scholarships in the nation.
Customers can direct their cable questions to the Comcast Boston area headquarters at 330 Billerica Road in Chelmsford.
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