Friday, May 25, 2001
Broadband for Carlisle? Not until 'eventually'
On two Fridays in May, AT&T Broadband ran a huge ad in the Mosquito to announce innovations "on the horizon" in our cable service. Unfortunately for Carlisle and a few of our neighboring towns, that horizon is way, way off in the distancenot even remotely visible from the rolling meadows and leafy woods of our town.
For the past fifteen years, Carlisle's cable services have been provided by Nashoba Cable, followed by Cablevision, and as of January 2001, by AT&T Broadband, which purchased Cablevision's New England franchises. Carlisle's cable television license is due to expire in less than five monthson October 13and the Carlisle Cable Communications Advisory Committee (CCAC) is nearing the end of the three-year process of license renewal regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy. The process began with Cablevision and is ending with AT&T Broadband, but the town seems no closer to the state-of-the-art digital technology currently enjoyed by many cable markets than we were fifteen years ago.
The enhanced services available to much of the rest of the countryhigh-speed Internet access, more than 100 TV channels, video-on-demand, and digital audiodepend on digital technology. Digital technology depends on upgrading the current cable system from 450 megahertz (MHz) to 750 MHz service, a process begun in Boston during the Cablevision era but not extended to Carlisle. In fact, of the approximately 12 local-area Cablevision properties now assumed by AT&T Broadband, only Carlisle, Concord and Lincoln still have 450MHz service. System rebuilds in Lexington and Acton have been completed, but digital cable and high-speed data services are still unavailable to subscribers.
To learn when Carlisle's service would be rebuilt, CCAC invited Rob Travers, formerly with Cablevision and now manager of government affairs with AT&T Broadband, to its meeting on April 11. Asked to report on the status of the system rebuild for Carlisle, Travers could not promise that the work would be done in 2001, nor even in 2002. "The company remains committed to the rebuild as quickly as we reasonably can," he said. Travers attributed AT&T's inability to complete the upgrade to the downturn in the economy. "If we get financing [for the build-out] in 2002," he predicted, "we could start later that year." He estimated that it would take four to six months to rebuild the system in Carlisle.
What residents want
A survey of all town residents conducted by CCAC in February 2000 revealed that 84% of respondents want high-speed Internet accessimmediatelybut the bleak picture painted by Rob Travers pushes that goal far into the future. The AT&T Broadband newspaper ad reads: "Our technical people are working hard to eventually bring you these next-generation services [high-speed Internet, digital phone, and digital cable TV]..." 'Eventually' is the key word.
So what are we to do? Some Carlisleans have purchased their own direct broadcast satellite (DBS) that provides digital video services but does not offer high-speed data. Others inquire about DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), which can provide high-speed Internet access from a telephone company's central office (CO) over existing phone lines. Verizon's closest central office is in Concord, but homes in Carlisle are not within the three-mile radius required for DSL service. Carlisle's telephone building in front of Town Hall is not a central office and cannot offer DSL unless Verizon commits resources to Carlislea move that industry observers doubt will happen soon.
No other cable providers
What about another cable provider? No other company has come knocking on Carlisle's door, even after the board of selectmen in 2000 invited proposals to compete with Cablevision. Therefore, we have no alternative but to continue the license renewal process with AT&T Broadband, our current provider.
On May 15, the board of selectmen sent the company a Request for Proposal, prepared by CCAC and including input from the town cable survey as well as from representatives of all town departments. A key requirement in the RFP states that "license renewal is contingent upon the franchisee's having completed a system rebuild that provides digital TV and high-speed data services." AT&T Broadband has been asked to respond within thirty days. As soon as the company's proposal has been submitted to the board of selectmen, a public hearing will be scheduled to allow Carlisle residentswhether current subscribers or notto share their concerns and ideas with representatives of AT&T Broadband. Receipt of the company's proposal will be announced in the Mosquito and a review copy will be kept in the town clerk's office.
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