MACHIAS — Machias selectmen were told Thursday that the New England Sports Network is now available on local cable television, and that Pine Tree Cablevision offers an “unprecedented” 15 percent, across-the-board discount to subscribers who are 65 and older.
Despite the promised discount, a rate increase is about to take effect.
Pine Tree Cablevision owner Walter Kemmerer traveled from Pennsylvania to meet with selectmen. Officials have sought a meeting with him since fall to discuss the possibility of charging the company a 2 percent franchise fee.
Board Chairman Edward Pellon explained that an earlier plan to charge a similar fee “was passed over because of the wording.” Pellon noted that the company, which was then under different ownership, threatened to increase subscriber rates if the franchise fee were charged.
Pellon argued that, although the fee was not adopted, subscriber rates increased anyway and special rates for such groups as the elderly were removed by the company.
“We took the unprecedented step of offering a 15 percent discount to anyone 65 and over,” replied Kemmerer. The discount applies to all services. “I don’t know of anyone else doing that.”
There were 1,084 subscribers in the Machias, Marshfield and Roque Bluffs area in April, and each subscriber paid an average monthly bill of $24.68.
Pine Tree Cablevision has about 4,400 subscribers in Washington County. About 40 percent of every dollar invested by the company is returned to the Machias system, Kemmerer said.
Kemmerer told officials that a 90-cent-a-month increase would go into affect soon. He said that subscribers had received four new cable channels — TNT, the JC Penney Shopping Channel, VH-1 and C-Span — free since early winter. Most of the increase will be used to defray the cost paid by Pine Tree to gain access to TNT.
His company nearly succeeded in bringing fiber-optic technology to Washington County cable viewers, according to Kemmerer. The plan fell through when the telephone company increased the fee it charges to cable companies for use of its poles.
With the fiber-optic system the Eastport-Winter Harbor service area would have been tied to a central location in East Machias, he said. The conversion would have involved the estimated 4,800 poles now used by Pine Tree Cablevision, and possibly 4,800 additional poles.
Annual pole fees first jumped from $2.32 to $11.40. An agreement eventually was struck, Kemmerer said, in which the telephone company would charge $7 for each pole, gradually increasing the rate to $12 a pole.
The increase made the conversion too expensive, said Kemmerer. If it had been completed, cable viewers in Washington County would have had access for the first time to pay-for-view specials offered for boxing, wrestling and other special events.
NESN has been shown ithout charge on Channel 15 for about a week. After two more weeks, subscribers wanting NESN will have to pay $4.15 a month to receive it.
Meanwhile, the prospect of bringing Boston’s Channel 38 to Machias appears bleak for Red Sox fans. With the satellite falling to earth, and contracts about to expire, Kemmerer said it would not be a wise business decision.
Kemmerer asked selectmen to consider revamping the town’s franchise agreement with Pine Tree Cablevision. The agreement, signed in February 1979, does not expire until February 1984.
“I want you folks to consider updating the franchise,” Kemmerer said, “to clean it up so we can go forward from here.”