Friday, January 29, 1999
The future of cable television is up to you
Carlisle's franchise agreement with Cablevision, its licensed cable TV provider, will come up for renewal in 2001. Over the next two years, the town is obligated to assess subscribers' views on the quality of Cablevision's performance and to survey residents' desires for future cable-based services. The results of the survey will be used by the Carlisle Cable TV Advisory Committee to negotiate a new contract with Cablevision.
As a first step in evaluating Cablevision's service, the selectmen will send a questionnaire to every household in the next few weeks. In this ten-question survey, which was prepared by the cable committee, queries are directed to subscribers and nonsubscribers alike. Subscribers will be surveyed primarily on their views about Cablevision's programming choices and technical performance.
All Carlisle residents are urged to fill out the questionnaire and return it because some of the survey questions are aimed at people who are not Cablevision subscribers. For example, nonsubscribers are asked whether they have chosen some other means of TV reception (such as a conventional over-the-air antenna or a direct broadcast satellite service) and how they like it. Former Cablevision subscribers are queried as to why they dropped the service. Also, each household is asked whether they would like state-of-the-art offerings such as high-speed Internet service.
Nashoba Cable first brought cable TV service to Carlisle in 1986. It provided improved reception of over-the-air channels, as well as an expanded channel selection list. Cablevision purchased Nashoba in 1995 and has continued Nashoba's tradition with few innovations.
Changes in industry
The cable industry has been undergoing significant changes in technology, competition, and range of service offerings. Expanded services resulted from the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allows cable, Internet and telephone companies to cross one another's borders. An up-to-date cable company might offer high-performance bundled services to its customersTV, Internet and telephoneat a price lower than the total of charges by separate providers.
Trends in the cable industry are to provide enhancements to the current TV product and to develop new services. One major innovation is high-speed access to the Internet via a cable modem. Cable modems receive data at least 35 times faster than a typical dial-up modem, and they stay connected all the time. Cable modem service is offered in some communities for $30 per month.
Another innovation by cable companies is provision of local telephone servicecompeting, in our area, with Bell Atlantic. To the telephone customer, the attraction today is a better price: perhaps 10 percent below Bell Atlantic for a single line, and 50 percent below for the second line.
In order to provide these enhancements, a cable company must first upgrade its infrastructure. Some of the major service providersMediaOne and RCN, for examplehave already upgraded connections to their subscribers and are offering not only cable modem service and local telephone service but digital television as well.
Digital transmission of television signals delivers higher-quality images and sound, equivalent to satellite service. Many more channels are offered with a broad array of programming. Digital will also enable subscribers to receive the remarkably clear pictures of high-definition television (HDTV), now in its infancy but probably as dramatic a development in television as the change from black-and-white to color.
Competition in telecommunications services will come to Carlisle eventually, but the timetable for its arrival is uncertain. When it does come, it will determine what services are offered and at what prices.
Until then, we must begin negotiating for the future with our sole cable service provider. We will urge Cablevision to upgrade their offerings in line with what residents tell us in their survey responses. Their expressed wants and needs will help shape a new contractone that must serve us well into the 21st century.
Wareham is a member of the Carlisle Cable TV Advisory Committee.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito