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County to study cable TV

March 30, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Three Washington County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to pay a consultant $25,000 to study the future needs of cable in the county, while the two dissenting commissioners thought the assessment would be a waste of money resulting in a county tax on cable bills.

The two commissioners opposed - Vice President William J. Wivell and John C. Munson - said the study would recommend that the county approve a cable franchise agreement and a cable tax to pay for future cable services.

"I'm not interested in doing that," Wivell said.

"There's people out there who don't have any other form of entertainment, and they don't need to be taxed out of it," Munson said.

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Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Commissioners Doris J. Nipps and James F. Kercheval voted for the study after such a move was recommended by the Washington County Public Network (WCPN).

The network is made up of the Washington County Free Library, the City of Hagerstown, the Board of Education and county representatives.

CBG Communications of Paoli, Pa., will complete the cable assessment, which will include determining whether the county has a need for public access channels, surveying cable customers about programming interests and rates, as well as conducting surveys among noncable subscribers.

WCPN, which pushed for a county cable franchise agreement last year, has said the agreement would give county government and schools high-speed Internet access, faster electronic communication with other government bodies and revenue to set up the local television channels and other educational services.

Antietam Cable Television General Manager Gene Hager told the commissioners before the vote that he opposed the study, which he said would recommend government, education and public access channels that provide little benefit to the public.

Such features would force a county cable tax on cable bills, driving up bills by $2 to $5 a month, he said.

"I'm asking you not to tax ... our customers - your constituents," Hager said.

Antietam Cable is owned by Schurz Communications Inc., which also owns The Herald-Mail.

Kercheval, taking issue with Hager's comments, said the cable company for no charge uses the county's rights-of-way to run cable lines, which might not be the best way to do things.

"Is that a responsible way for the county to use its assets?" Kercheval asked.

Munson accused the City of Hagerstown of being the force behind the study and said he thought the city would "get something" out of a county cable franchise agreement. He said he thought the commissioners were being kept in the dark about what that benefit might be.

The "city is going to get something. I don't trust them," Munson said.

When Commissioner Doris J. Nipps objected to Munson's comments and said he was making accusations, Munson responded, "There's something behind it that we're not being told. Dori, you have your beliefs and I have mine."

City Finance Director Al Martin, who was at Tuesday's commissioners meeting for the presentation, said he there on the behalf of WCPN, not the city.

He said WCPN was trying to provide more services to the public.

The city has had a cable franchise agreement with Antietam Cable since 1967, Martin said.

That agreement sets aside three public access channels but only two channels are in use - Channel 6 for city government and Channel 99 for Board of Education programming.

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