PEABODY — Soon, Comcast will no longer be the only bundled cable television, high-speed internet and phone service provider in the city.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt announced Monday the city has a provisional agreement for a franchise license with communications company RCN.
The agreement ends a 40-year monopoly of cable TV service in Peabody "and ushers in a new era of competition intended to benefit residents and businesses alike," a statement from the mayor's office said.
The city has been looking for a competitive cable provider since the Torigian administration.
"While Peabody residents are bombarded daily with slick advertisements for services like Verizon's FiOS, Comcast remained the only game in town," the statement said.
The terms of the agreement with RCN mirror the one with Comcast and provide 5% of gross annual revenues to the city. Some money goes into the city's technology fund, but the majority — 4.5% — flows to Peabody Access Telecommunications, the nonprofit community access provider known as Peabody TV.
Bettencourt lauded the role Peabody Municipal Light Plant played in reaching a separate agreement with RCN to grant utility pole space for its fiber buildout. Part of bringing RCN to the city involved a commitment by the telecommunications company to build an exclusive fiber optic network for municipal use, called an I-Net. The mayor said the fiber network will save the city money on internet services for city departments and the schools.
"That's going to take a lot of time and planning," Bettencourt said in an interview.
The city tried to attract Verizon FiOS for several years, but the company was not looking to build out its network infrastructure.
Bettencourt said he does not know how long it might be before RCN starts offering services to Peabody residents. It could be a matter of several months.
"I think it's one of the best things to happen to the city of Peabody," said Ward 1 City Councilor Jon Turco, the council's president.
In a statement, Comcast spokesperson Marc Goodman touted the speed of his company's connections for homes and businesses, its advanced network and platforms, and its "award-wining local workforce."
"The investments we make in our broadband platform are paying off: We compete every day with multiple competitors, but consumers and businesses choose Comcast because they recognize the unparalleled experience we offer," Goodman said.
RCN in Peabody
RCN provides cable TV, internet and phone service in Boston, Chicago, the Washington, D.C. metro area, Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, New York City and Philadelphia, according to its website.
In addition to Boston and its surrounding communities, RCN recently expanded to Everett and Revere, where it competes with Comcast.
For years residents have reached out to Bettencourt about the need for cable competition. Bettencourt said in an interview he had been receiving calls and emails from residents who had spotted RCN trucks in the city "doing their due diligence," but he wanted to wait until there was a provisional agreement before making an announcement.
A public hearing on the agreement with RCN has been scheduled for Wednesday, June 26, 6 p.m., in City Hall.
"It's going to be a good thing for the city," said Tom Steel, a vice president for RCN who helped negotiate the agreement with the city and with the light plant. RCN is expanding for the first time since 2000, he said.
Steel said RCN has started to build its network and the work will go in phases in different parts of the city, but he could not say when residents may be able to tune in.
RCN's least expensive Digital Basic bundle is a 100 Mbps internet with basic cable plus 57 channels for $44.99 a month for 12 months. Comcast's Xfinity Internet 100 Mbps and Choice TV can be had for $39.99 a month.
Technically speaking, Comcast was not the only game in town. While Comcast at present has the city's only cable TV franchise license, it has competitors, including satellite TV and phone providers, plus many streaming services.
Comcast had 17,461 Peabody subscribers last year, according to the state Department of Telecommunications and Cable. That's actually down a little more than 2% from 17,858 subscribers in 2016.
The city's 10-year agreement with Comcast runs through November 2025.
In addition to the 5% in gross annual revenues, Comcast also pays the city $1.2 million in cable-related equipment and facilities funding over the course of the license and provides three channels for Public, Educational and Governmental Access programming.
According to Christopher Ryder, the mayor's chief of staff, the Comcast license calls for the city to get $1,184,300 this fiscal year, with Peabody TV getting $1,077,870, and the city receiving net proceeds of $115,160. Peabody TV's operating budget is about $900,000.
The agreement also provides for the ability to originate programming from eight city buildings: the Peabody TV studio on Foster Street, City Hall, Peabody High, the Higgins Middle School, the Torigian Center, the Kiley School, the district court and the police station.
Camille Bartlett, executive director of Peabody TV, said the Comcast and RCN franchise licenses have to be similar because the city is required by law to provide a level playing field for providers.
Bartlett said it's not known what the financial impact might be from RCN, since what the city receives is based on revenues. Comcast may lose some subscribers as RCN gains some, but those gains depend on what packages customers choose and their cost.
Bartlett said RCN will offer the three PEG access channels in high definition.
Steel said the institutional fiber network will allow the city to do more live programming. And the agreement calls for 1% grant of revenues for capital funding for public access.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.