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Rates are going up for MetroCast Communications subscribers come 2013, while another Baltimore network affiliate will be lost to local viewers.
A letter was sent out to customers last week, and the St. Mary’s County commissioners were also notified.
A new tier of cable Internet speed will be available, but Channel 13, WJZ-TV, the Baltimore CBS affiliate, will be dropped from the MetroCast lineup on Jan. 1, 2013. Channel 11, WBAL-TV, the Baltimore NBC affiliate was already dropped, leaving Channel 2, ABC’s WMAR-TV, the only Baltimore network affiliate left on MetroCast’s system.
“Local broadcast stations are now demanding much higher ‘Retransmission Consent’ fees for the right of video providers to retransmit their signals to subscribers who pay for video services,” MetroCast’s letter from General Manager Bernard Hazelwood to St. Mary’s customers said.
“As a consequence ... MetroCast may no longer be able to carry certain ‘out-of-market’ broadcast stations. However, as these stations typically carry the same network programming already carried on local, ‘in-market’ broadcast stations, MetroCast customers will continue to receive all major network programming,” the letter said.
Bob Kelly, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Emergency Services and Technology, worked on the county’s cable franchise agreement with MetroCast, which started a 15-year contract in 2003.
He said St. Mary’s is considered by the Federal Communications Commission to be in the Washington, D.C., television market and not in Baltimore’s.
St. Mary’s also has a cable franchise agreement with Comcast, which serves Charlotte Hall down to New Market, Kelly said.
“The county doesn’t restrict Comcast from coming down here,” he said. It is up to the business to decide if it wants to extend its infrastructure farther south into territory where MetroCast provides service. As of last December, MetroCast had about 20,000 customers in St. Mary’s, Kelly said.
Verizon has not installed FiOS lines in St. Mary’s at this point, he said, which could also offer television services. However, dish and satellite services are available.
Starting in January, the cost for expanded and basic cable television from MetroCast will increase by $4 a month over the current $65.95 fee. The cost for the digital basic package increases by $1 a month to $11.95 a month. A digital converter box is also required for that service and the fee for the converter increases by $1 to $7.95 a month.
High-speed Internet service increases its speed in January, and the monthly charge increases by $2 to $48.95. There is also a new tier Internet speed available for $69.95 a month.
St. Mary’s County government had a cable advisory committee in place to monitor customer complaints, but after years of inactivity, it was recently abolished with the permission of the county commissioners.
Kelly said local government is limited in its influence over the services provided by cable companies by the FCC. St. Mary’s County government can’t officially comment on Internet service, phone service, pricing or channels offered, he said.
But because cable companies use public rights of way to install their infrastructure, local governments have the ability to enter into franchise agreements. “Then the public has the right to negotiate benefits and services in return,” Kelly said.
Under the agreement with MetroCast, St. Mary’s County receives 5 percent of the cable company’s gross receipts. MetroCast also had to install fiber optic connections to the county’s public middle and high schools, board of education offices and volunteer fire and rescue squads. Elementary schools were connected to cable Internet.