Opinion

When competition comes to town

In this age of lightning-fast technology and businesses like Uber revolutionizing the economic landscape, it’s amazing that Comcast Corporation has monopolized cable service in Peabody for 40 years.

In Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s words, the Philadelphia-based communications company has ” … had a stranglehold on cable service …” But not for long: Bettencourt signed a provisional agreement with RCN Corp. to offer cable television and high-speed Internet.

A hearing on the provisional license is scheduled at City Hall for June 26.

A 2018 CNBC All-American Economic Survey of 801 people found 30 percent obtained visual media through cable or satellite service while the majority surveyed rely on streaming services only or a combination of cable and streaming.

RCN isn’t, in the mayor’s words, a “bargain basement provider” who will lure customers away from Comcast with rock-bottom cable rates. But he said RCN is promising better customer service and subscriber packages.

The company also plans to build I-Net, a high-tech Internet service tailored to serving city departments, including City Hall and the public schools. Giving the mayor and everyone else working for the city reliable, high-speed service is a smart move for a company seeking to do business in Peabody or any city.

But RCN’s success will be in the eye of the beholder, specifically cable customers who may or may not be happy with Comcast.

Bettencourt said fellow Peabody residents gripe to him about the lack of cable television competition. That sort of complaint often reflects disappointment, if not outrage, over poor customer service. A Comcast spokesman told The Daily Item the company is committed to serving its Peabody customers, including through its new service center in Danvers.

The best way for Peabody residents interested in increased local cable competition to compare RCN versus Comcast is to look south and west to Everett and Revere.

RCN debuted service in those cities recently and the cable provider is competing head-to-head with Comcast. It would be helpful if testimony delivered at the Wednesday night meeting includes anecdotal information about RCN and Comcast customer experiences in Revere and Everett.

Cable TV may be slowly but surely going the way of taxis and landline telephones. But cable companies send a fraction of their local gross revenues to cities and towns and the money is used to pay for public cable access, including televised government meetings.

It’s exciting to see a longtime monopoly broken in Peabody. But the proof of the value of bringing cable competition into the city will be, as they say, in the pudding.

More Stories From Peabody