The City of Frederick is considering a request from a second cable television company to offer service to the residents, a proposal which at first blush offers the hope of competition which would keep the current provider on its toes.

Competition in any field usually means that both companies try to keep down prices and improve service in an effort to hold onto old customers and attract new ones. Cable TV competition might be able to do that, but we have to wonder if this is a development that is about a decade too late to help Frederick consumers much.

Shenandoah Cable Television has asked the city to approve a cable franchise agreement to provide cable services, including fiber-based broadband, voice, and video to residents and businesses in the city. Based in Edinburg, Va., the firm serves customers in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky.

An agreement to provide an alternative to Comcast, the city’s current single provider, would have to be approved by the city’s Board of Aldermen.

Bryan Byrd, a spokesman for Shenandoah, told the city’s aldermen and mayor that the company would build a fiber optic network to offer broadband service with the same speeds for uploads and downloads.

Stephen Davis, an assistant city attorney, told the board that federal law requires the city to make it feasible for other companies to establish a franchise that can compete fairly.

Mayor Michael O’Connor said the demand for broadband service is increasing with more people working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. He said the city wants a level playing field for any competitors.

In April 2018, Comcast announced a $1 million expansion in its network in Frederick, adding about 14 miles of additional fiber optic cable in and near downtown Frederick.

Byrd said Shenandoah would hope to start serving customers two to three years after construction on the company’s infrastructure begins.

That sounds good, and we are generally supportive of new companies coming into the city and offering healthy competition. But the cable TV industry is in such flux, we have to wonder if Frederick consumers will see significant savings.

The trend for the last several years has been for an increasing number of cable customers to “cut the cord” and end their cable subscriptions.

The Wall Street Journal reported that large cable and satellite companies lost about 5.5 million customers in 2019, a roughly 8% decline. That was up from 3.2 million lost subscribers the previous year.

Allconnect.com, a website reporting on the telecommunications industry, said about 80 million households in the country subscribe to cable or satellite television, down from a peak of 100 million a decade ago.

Comcast and other cable companies are already competing hard to hold on to their customers even without a direct cable competitor. The cable companies are adjusting to the new reality, offering free streaming and other enhancements, though prices remain high.

At least one industry analyst believes that the cable firms are evolving in ways that might benefit Frederick customers if a second cable company starts operating here with its own broadband network.

Bruce Leichtman of Leichtman Research Group told CNet, the tech website, earlier this year: “Keep in mind what we call ‘cable providers’ are now broadband providers. Their main source of earnings is broadband. The traditional pay TV business is not as much a priority for them as it used to be.”

So, it seems that the city should welcome a new broadband company which happens to also offer pay TV. If it works, competition for broadband customers could help restrain the cost for consumers who are increasingly reliant on their connection to the Internet, for work and for entertainment.

At this juncture, it is hard to know how the cable TV world will change, but it seems certain that the broadband world will keep growing.

(20) comments

olefool

My Comcast cable bill has increased over $125.00 per month over the past 5 years, goes up $20.00 a month every year without accountability. However, I still get the same lame intermittent product and non existent service when it goes black. What is more distressing to me are the commercials, it seems to me that about half the time I am watching some unwanted spiel for cars, pills, treadmills or politicians. They should be paying me for my time and aggravation to watch all this garbage. I have made a pact with myself to never purchase anything I saw or heard advertised on my TV, internet, and mail.

TomWheatley

Just curious how many people on here have worked in networks or oversaw a retrofit of a large campus to fiber optics and 100M network?

DickD

I worked in communications for 42 years. Central Office, engineering private line circuits, point to point microwave, land /mobile radio, teaching and developing training courses for cell sites and doing ground work for fiber optic cable.

gary4books

I planned and supervised the computer system in the Texas A&M Library (Laredo Campus) and worked with the campus Ethernet system. Later on I supervised FDA computer systems and my brother was a senior AT&T Vice President and I have had extensive conversations about AT&T plans for 5G. Also I have worked in science libraries and was an engineering student for four years. If I have made a mistake, please correct me.

DickD

The problem with satellite TV is there is no broadband Internet. Sure, you can get TV, but without Broadband Internet you are limited. With broadband Internet there are all kinds of possibilities.

TomWheatley

Hearing about 5G is like reading the news on the latest fusion reactors being viable in the next 10 years. Simple problem of physics and don't drink the 5G kool aid of replacing cable or satellites with it. The frequency is ultra high and with that, attenuation is very rapid. How rapid? Try 500 meters or less depending on line of sight and trees. Perfectly fine for urban customers akin to fiber optic, but useless if you want that phone signal anywhere out in the countryside. People like their wind power, but complain if one tower is visible to them on a nearby mountain or offshore. Can you imagine having a 5G tower on a 400-500 meter grid across the country? Works out to about 12-16 towers per square mile. No thanks.

https://www.lightreading.com/mobile/5g/high-band-5g-lets-address-the-range-question-shall-we/a/d-id/731293

There are trade-offs, however, because the signal penetration and range at 28GHz or higher gets shorter and more subject to line-of-sight and foliage concerns. (See 60GHz: A Frequency to Watch for more.)

For instance, Samsung Corp. said recently that it tested its 28Ghz infrastructure with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) for its home-brewed fixed 5G service at ranges of up 1,500 feet (500 meters). If those ranges hold true beyond the customer trials -- note if -- that would mean a 5G radio deployed every couple of blocks in Manhattan, just for a fixed wireless service. (See Verizon to Start Fixed 5G Customer Trials in April.)

gabrielshorn2013

Absolutely agree Tom, no thanks. Folks hear the promise of 5G, without hearing, let alone understanding, the obstacles and technical issues. 5G is for urban landscapes, not suburban, and definitely not rural landscapes. I currently have two cell towers in my line of sight in the Middletown Valley. Multiply that by 10-20X, and you can imaging the 5G landscape here.

gary4books

Shorn and Tom: That might be a problem, except the new 5G "towers" are tiny and may get even smaller with likely fiber optics to link them into a grid. We can debate about how long it will take, but if we want the rules that will benefit everyone, we got to start now.

TomWheatley

You need a certain size cone for microwave and a height to ensure decent line of sight. Sticking them on the top of a traffic light might be good for the end of the block, but not around the corner thru a brick building. Let the cities enjoy it.

NewMarketParent

@gary4books

I thought they were also getting smarter about deployment so that they blend in.

I would imagine that people were opposed to telephone poles and power lines when they went up as well.

threecents

Thanks Gary!

DickD

There are problems with that too Gary as frequencies are limited and you have to separate them with distance before reusing them.

Greg F

Con-Cast/X-Profanity needs competition to boot it's greedy rear end hard. Scamming company that slows speeds and tell you the only way to get great speeds is to use their own rented equipment. BS...simply not true and plenty of IT folks have told me that and advised the best equipment to be compatible. It works...then slowly slows from the promissed speeds back to half that until you complain and they go back up...for a month or two...maybe...then trickle back down. Wash, rinse, repeat time and time again. 2 FCC complaints filed and worked for a long time. They like to rate-jack you even in the middle of your term as well. This is a company that should join Ma Bell in the grave.

gary4books

A guud thing, even if it is late? I think it may be too late to divide up this old cable television pie when net 5G systmes can replace all of it and serve many more customers all over the county - if we legislate universal service. That is the key.

Consider the children's story "Epaminondas"

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epaminondas_and_His_Auntie) where the child makes mistakes and learns from the mistakes but also applies the lesson to the problems of the next day.

Verizon is leaving its fiber optics television service and in many areas has sold it to Frontier, which is now having problems making it work as a business. AT&T may leave its satellite business to work on its 5G network. Verizon is working on its 5G services and we may see most television services on 5G networks in the near future. The timing depends on the economy and the technology and even the fear factor from those who want to slow it. But 5G will likely take over television and the cable television business will likely shrink. This is not the time to get on the cable television wagon. Not in my opinion. Some competition will be good. But the future is in a county wide broad band 5G network to serve all in the County. If it will take legislation to extend service to all, now is the time to work on that through our state and national representatives.

gabrielshorn2013

From what I understand Gary, from our phone repairman when I asked him about this issue, the County Council has a lot to do with the Verizon/FIOS debacle here in Frederick County. Verizon wanted to come in and set up shop in the more densely populated areas (Like Frederick, Brunswick, etc.), and work outward from there as demand increased. FredCo Council said all or none, so the build-out of fiber optic stopped at that point. Instead of some, we get none.

gary4books

That was then. Now Verizon is working to get rid of FIOS and has sold many customers to Frontier. They may tie their fiber into a new product as part of their 5G net.

FrederickFan

This is just not true. The county council has no authority to keep a business out of the county. They do not regulate cable or internet.

Reader1954

you might get a discount at first but then they all end up being the same price. Just like coke & pepsi. They take turns going on sale but otherwise they are both the same price.

NewMarketParent

@Reader1954

I tend to agree with you. What we should probably do is have the county build out the infrastructure and then let the companies fight to see who can provide the best service on top of it. In countries that do that, they get real competition and we are not left holding the bag when they want to take their ball and go home.

DickD

Better idea, let the City put in the cable and allow users to select the company.

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