Friday, March 17, 2000
Where does Carlisle stand in relation to Cablevision?
The special qualities that make Carlisle so attractiveits rural character, concern for the land and still-small sizeare often extolled in the Mosquito and applauded by proud residents in social and business gatherings. But neighbors in many larger communities closer to Boston can boast one amenity that Carlisle sorely lacksa state-of-the-art cable provider that can deliver high-speed Internet access and telephone services, along with enhanced television features.
The survey conducted by the Carlisle Cable Communications Advisory Committee and reported in the February 4 Mosquito indicated that 84 percent of respondents want high-speed Internet access and they want it now. A number of those respondents urged that MediaOne become the town's cable provider because of its successful broadband installations in other communities that make high-speed Internet access, telephone and advanced digital services possible. In a letter to the editor last fall, a Carlisle resident attempted to rouse the citizenry by pointing out that Carlisleans are "wealthy and influential" and deserve the best cable and Internet access service.
So what's the problem? Why don't we have the best? The fastest? The most reliable? The answer is Cablevision, the only cable provider licensed to serve Carlisle. Respondents to last year's town-wide cable TV survey gave Cablevision low marks on the value of the service it currently delivers to the town. Many residents reported interference with their TV reception on Boston channels that the cable operator has been unable to fix. Others were disappointed in the limited scope of programming offered by Cablevision. These shortcomings, added to the frustrating delay in providing high-speed Internet access, can be attributed to the company's obsolete equipment and its lack of aggressiveness in upgrading its facilities in Carlisle.
Recognizing Cablevision's deficiencies in providing high-quality service to the town, early last year the board of selectmen invited proposals for a second cable provider which could compete with Cablevision in Carlisle. Only RCN expressed interest, in the form of a preliminary proposal which stopped short of a definitive proposal since Carlisle's sparse population places it toward the bottom of the list of cities and towns to be wired. MediaOne did not respond to the selectmen's request for proposals.
This leaves Cablevision as the only player in town, but the scenes on the corporate stage are rapidly shifting. In April 1999, AT&T announced its proposed merger with MediaOne. About six months later, Cablevision announced plans to sell its Boston (including Carlisle) and Cleveland markets and focus on the lucrative New York City metropolitan area. Industry watchers expected MediaOne to purchase Cablevision's Boston-area holdings, but it now appears that no action will be taken until the AT&TMediaOne deal is concluded. That merger currently is alarming some critics who fear that AT&T, which would become the nation's largest cable TV company and provider of high-speed Internet services, would gain too much control over TV content reaching subscribers' homes.
In the renewal process
Back in Carlisle, Cablevision's license is due to expire in October 2001. The two-year renewal process required by the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy began last year with the distribution of the survey. Other steps along the path toward relicensing include surveying town offices and the Carlisle School about their future needs, identifying neighborhoods not wired by Cablevision, issuing an RFP (Request for Proposal) that includes Carlisle's expectations of Cablevision, and a public hearing. At the conclusion of this process, Cablevision will issue its renewal proposal, which the issuing authority (the Carlisle Board of Selectmen) will negotiate over a four-month period. Generally, the issuing authority must renew the license unless it can prove that Cablevision has failed to meet the terms of the licensing criteria.
If Cablevision intends to sell its Carlisle franchise, why must we waltz down this path at all, you ask? Because Massachusetts law requires it. Cablevision has begun a $300 million upgrade of its facilities in Massachusetts to provide the higher levels of service so much desired and so long delayed in Carlisle. Even if and when the Boston-area franchises are sold to another provider, good business practices dictate that the cable company continue to enhance its services in order to make itself as attractive as possible to a potential buyer.
When can we expect to see Cablevision trucks on Carlisle roads, installing our fiber optic network so we can enjoy high-speed Internet access? A Cablevision spokesperson has told us that the upgrade in Carlisle might be completed in early 2001. Because only about 950 Carlisle households subscribe to Cablevision, our numbers render us virtually invisible in cable TV's big picture in Massachusetts. Of particular concern to the Carlisle Cable Communications Advisory Committee is the fact that several neighborhoods in town have never been wired by Cablevision, leaving those residents without cable service. Wiring of all Carlisle neighborhoods will be one of the major conditions included in the RFP to Cablevision.
Seismic changes in the telecommunications industry, fueled by the Internet, are making headlines across the country and the predicted blending of the Internet, television and telephone is taking shape in many communities, all larger than Carlisle. As residents wait to see what will happen with Cablevision and MediaOne, Carlisle's franchise renewal process must move forward. And as we wait impatiently for cable TV to deliver high-speed Internet access to our town, some alternatives are available now from DBS (direct broadcast satellite) and wireless companies, but these new technologies are not cheap. The cable communications advisory committee will report on these options and the rapidly developing area of broadband technologies in a future Mosquito article.
Ellen Miller is a member of the Carlisle Cable Communications Advisory Committee.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito