The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 17, 2000


Fast Internet access for Carlisle still in the slow lane

Carlisle's entrepreneurs and web surfers inhabit an island of slow Internet access amidst a sea of high-speed connection choices. One or both of the two most prevalent technologies for fast, low-cost Internet access, DSL (digital subscriber line) and cable modem, are available in most communities inside the 495 beltway, but not yet in Carlisle. Progress here seems to be in low gear.

Most Carlisle computer users access the Internet using a 56 kilobit (56kb) dial-up telephone modem, which ties up a phone line for the duration of the surfing session. Although an improvement on the older 14kb and 28kb modems, a 56kb data transfer rate is slow as molasses by "new millennium" standards.

DSL vs. cable modem

A DSL connection, offered by Verizon and other telecom providers in many Massachusetts towns, speeds up the data transfer rate by a factor of 10 to 125 times, depending on the pricing plan selected (from about $50 to $200 per month). An added benefit is that the DSL connection is "always on," sharing a voice phone line without tying it up. An "always on" Internet connection via cable modem, pioneered in Massachusetts by Media One (now part of AT&T Broadband) increases the data transfer rate by a factor of 25 times, for a typical added cost of $40 per month. For the approximately 85% of Carlisle homes with access to cable, this might be the most desirable option.

DSL for Carlisle low priority at Verizon

Unfortunately, both DSL and cable modem connections require system upgrades which have not yet been made in Carlisle. In the case of DSL, subscribers must be within 2-3 miles of a DSL-equipped central office, or specialized "concentrators" must be deployed to extend the range beyond 3 miles. Verizon's central office in Concord, which serves the 369 and 371 exchanges, has already been upgraded for ADSL (asynchronous DSL), but no Carlisle residence is within three miles of it. Verizon's remote central office site next to Carlisle's town hall, which is connected to the Concord central office by optical fibers, has not yet been upgraded for DSL service.

According to Linda Mahoney of Verizon's Public Affairs office, Carlisle has been far down their DSL deployment priority list due to its low population density. However, Mahoney did suggest that Carlisle's DSL priority might be reconsidered, perhaps to appease the many upset Carlisle residents who were mistakenly offered the unavailable Verizon DSL service during the past year. She was unwilling to estimate the timing of a review or a potential DSL start date.

In Concord, Verizon's basic 640kb (downstream) ADSL Internet access service costs $49.95 per month. (The 640kb speed applies to the downloading of Internet data, referred to in the industry as the "downstream" direction. Actual data transfer rate depends on distance from the Walden Street central office.)

Cable upgrade begins

One possible incentive for Verizon to offer DSL service in Carlisle might be the impending takeover of Cablevision's local cable television franchise by AT&T Broadband. The current 450 MHz cable system needs major upgrades to convert it into a broadband network. In an October notice to subscribers, Cablevision announced a fiber optic upgrade project. According to Cablevision's government relations spokesperson Jay Summers, their cable operating division, Optimum TV, has begun a 750 MHz system upgrade. Assuming that AT&T Broadband completes the upgrade after taking control in late December, there will eventually be enough bandwidth to provide additional services such as digital TV, local telephone and Internet access.

However, a completion schedule for the upgrade and decisions on possible new cable routing schemes have not yet been announced by AT&T. Jennifer Khoury, an AT&T spokesperson, predicted that Carlisle will eventually see service options similar to those already offered in AT&T's "full broadband communities" such as Chelmsford, Billerica, Burlington and Cambridge. These options include "always on" asynchronous Internet access at 1500kb (downstream, during non-peak demand periods) for a monthly fee of $29.95-$39.95, depending on whether the modem is purchased or rented. Khoury was unable to estimate the timing of such new services in Carlisle. An optimistic projection based on unofficial non-AT&T sources would probably be sometime in 2001.

The speculation among those who follow these matters, including members of Carlisle's Communications Advisory Committee (formerly Cable TV Advisory Committee), is that AT&T Broadband will continue to upgrade and configure the Carlisle cable system to provide multiple services, including digital interactive cable TV, local telephone service and high-speed Internet access. The prospect of AT&T carving out a share of the local telephone market by bundling it with an Internet access service might factor into Verizon's reconsideration of DSL service for Carlisle.

Other technologies

Other technologies offering or promising high-speed Internet access, some available now and others still in development, include T1 lines, ISDN, satellite and fixed wireless. The monthly cost of "T1" lines, typically $1500 or higher, makes them unrealistic for most residential consumers. ISDN service from Verizon involves about $300 in special equipment plus monthly fees around $25. (Hitch: Downstream data transfer speed is only 128kb ­ just double the speed of a dial-up modem.) A new satellite service called StarBand, sold by Radio Shack, provides 2-way always-on Internet access at downstream speeds between 150kb and 500kb during peak and off-peak demand periods, respectively. Equipment cost is $300, and monthly fees are $59.95. (Hitch: A satellite-configured PC is required.) Fixed wireless systems based on MMDS technology (Microwave Multipoint Distribution Service), at speeds from 500kb to 1500kb, are offered by Sprint and MCI WorldCom, but are not yet available in Carlisle. (Hitch: Microwave towers are required.)

Perhaps the best characterization of the current situation is that offered by Carlisle resident and Forum staff writer Mark Green (see Forum on page 2): "Indeed, without broadband the Internet for us is less a superhighway than a rutted rural cart path."

eligible, 200 to 220 have shown up at the two events since the beginning of this school year. The night entails basketball, a DJ, and food, and is very well chaparoned. A small amount of seed money was provided by the town, but the program is largely self-supporting through fees.

Recreation commission

Maureen Tarca of the Recreation Commission reported, "We're booming." Programming has increased and enrollments this year topped 1,000. More programs could be offered but the RecCom is now limited by space. The summer program grew by 25% this year, and about 40 Carlisle teenagers are trained as counsellors and employed in the program. The Banta Davis fields are "the jewel of this community and the envy of Concord." The RecCom has received nets and goals from Concord-Carlisle Youth Soccer and hopes to partner with CC Youth Soccer and Youth Baseball to build additional playing fields. Next year they hope to add two tennis courts and a basketball court on Banta-Davis. "We're facing growth issues as well," added Tarca, as evidenced by the need to turn people away from some programs such as tennis, skiing, and ceramics. It is hoped that future land aquisitions will include land for recreation.

Pedestrian and bicycle safety

Deb Belanger of the pedestrian and bicycle safety committee reported they are looking for engineering firms to evaluate the plan for the school loop path. Next year the committee will focus on signage and marking of crosswalks and the possibility of volunteer parent crossing guards. They have met with nine town committees and incorporated their suggestions.

Trails committee

Louise Hara of the Trails Committee reported they currently maintain 40 miles of trails through volunteers. They have sponsored walks, including a recent one the day after Thanksgiving which attracted fifty-five walkers. They have also recently updated the trails book, which is available at Town Hall. Next year the committee will focus on better signage and parking spaces at the many trails which have none.

Cable TV Committee

Ray Pichuloof the Cable TV Committee reported that the change from Cablevision to Media One/At&T has not been completed. AT&T has not made any committments for expanded service in Carlisle, although a negotiation for license renewal next year will provide an opportunity to make requests. Carlisle's small subscriber base of 950 spread-out houses is not attractive. Cindy Nock suggested that any concessions from AT&T be gotten in writing, since promises they made to the high school were never been kept.

Future challenges

The boards and committees of town government have been successful in maintaining a quality of life in Carlisle that attracts people to the town. Fitzgerald referred to this double-edged sword when he congratulated the School Board on Carlisle's superior MCAS results,and ruefully added, "Expect a new influx of students next year." As most boards are finding, providing for and managing growth will be the major challenge facing the town in the next few years.

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito