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Munson blasts cable franchise proposal

March 30, 2006|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

A discussion Tuesday about Washington County possibly pursuing agreements with local cable companies became heated when County Commissioner John C. Munson angrily criticized the proposal, saying the agreements would result in higher cable bills for residents.

Thomas G. Robinson, executive vice president of CBG Communications Inc. of Paoli, Pa., recommended that the commissioners negotiate cable franchise agreements with Antietam Cable Television Inc., Adelphia Communications and Comcast.

The commissioners last year approved a $25,000 contract with CBG to study the cable-related needs of the county.

Franchise agreements would bring several benefits to the county, Robinson said, including increasing high-speed Internet capabilities in public schools and for businesses, and allowing for government access channels.

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But Munson said the cable companies would have to raise cable bills to provide the services, which he said would mainly benefit county government

"What it is is a hidden tax for county government, and I will not vote for it no matter what you tell me," Munson said.

Munson strongly opposed the county approving cable franchise agreements.

"They don't want this," Munson said of the public. "They want to be left alone and have their cable TV and that's it."

Munson lashed out at Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook, who had asked him to let other commissioners ask questions.

"I'm not shutting the h--- up until I'm d--- good and ready," Munson said.

Snook then asked Munson several times if he was finished with his comments.

Munson told Snook not to be a "smarta--" and that he had a right to speak.

Munson said he was trying to protect Washington County residents.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell agreed with Munson that "there's no need for a franchise fee."

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said that while whether to support franchise agreements was debatable, the focus should be on how to bring better educational services to students.

"I think the issue is so much bigger than what Commissioner Munson brought up today," Kercheval said.

Commissioner Doris J. Nipps made similar statements and said she was concerned about "how we're going to provide for our kids."

Washington County Public Network (WCPN), which has pushed for a cable franchise agreement, has said an 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.

Members of WCPN attended Tuesday's commissioners meeting.

The group, made up of the Washington County Free Library, the City of Hagerstown, the Board of Education and county representatives, recommended last year that the commissioners allow CBG to conduct the study on cable needs.

At that time, Antietam Cable General Manager Gene Hager told the commissioners the additional services would increase customers' bills by $2 to $5 a month. He asked them not to tax Antietam Cable's customers.

An attorney for Antietam Cable said Tuesday the company would be interested in negotiating more services with the county, including for the schools, but that it was possible to do it without a franchise agreement.

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