Internet in Antietam Cable's future

April 10, 1999|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

A City of Hagerstown panel didn't get much public input during the first of a series of meetings meant to shape the city's next franchise agreement with Antietam Cable Television.

A Hagerstown Community College representative in favor of offering more classes by cable and a North End resident fed up with commercials and seeing the same program on multiple channels took up less than a quarter of the two hours allotted for comment.

The rest of the time, Antietam Cable's general manager and four other employees showed informational videos and talked about new services that will allow customers to surf the Internet via cable and receive a lot more channels than currently available.

They brought along one of the new digital cable boxes, which could be available this fall. It's roughly four times the size of the analog cable converter box used now.


They also showed the cable modem that will be used to give customers rapid, two-way computer access to the Internet through a cable line, maybe as soon as this summer.

They also answered questions from the city's panel, consisting of City Manager Bruce Zimmerman, Planning Director Richard L. Kautz and Karen Guthrie King, of Local Government Resources in Ashburn, Va.

Peggy Hutson, coordinator for HCC's distance learning services, said she'd like to see more on-call technical support from the cable company earlier in the morning.

Last fall, the college offered a class via cable from 7 to 8:15 a.m. that was disrupted by a lot of technical problems, Hutson said.

By the time support service was available at 8 or so, it was too late, she said. That's discouraging to students.

"I want this to be a positive experience. Students are getting busier and they're looking for alternatives to coming to class every day," Hutson said.

Also, she said she was hoping to see a channel just for local education, which would give the college an opportunity to offer evening cable classes as it used to do.

Sharing a single cable station with the City of Hagerstown and the Washington County Board of Education leaves the college very little time for programming, she said.

Richard Coover, of Glenwood Avenue, said he was pleased with the cable company's service but wondered why there had to be so many commercials and why the same show would be shown on up to three channels at the same time.

"It's supposed to be entertainment, right?" said Coover, who said he'd seen on television that the cable company wanted to hear customers' suggestions for improvement.

So he decided to stop by after going to the city market and share his thoughts, he said.

More public input is being sought through another informal meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. May 13, at a public hearing at 7 p.m. May 19, or in letter or e-mail form, Zimmerman said.

Because franchise agreements are long-term, usually 10 to 15 years, the city hopes to hear not only from customers but anyone with ideas of how cable can and should be used for the community's benefit.

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