Friday, August 31, 2001
AT&T to town: You can't ask for that.
The company responds to the town's RFP
On August 14 the Carlisle Cable Advisory Committee held a public hearing on renewing AT&T's license to continue providing cable services in town, recently transferred from Nashoba Cable and Cablevision. Summarized here is what the town asked the company to do to renew the license, and what the company accepted and refused.
Upgrading the system
AT&T responded to the Carlisle RFP's specifications for a system rebuild by this October that provides digital TV and high-speed data services by agreeing to upgrade from 450 MHz to a two-way 750 MHz system (MHz refers to bandwidth). However, the company refused to commit to accomplish the rebuild before October of 2003, or 24 months following the beginning of the new license.
Although in its proposal the company writes of plans to upgrade to a hybrid fiber coaxial system, the response also points out that legally the town is barred from "prohibiting, conditioning or restricting" the type of equipment or transmission technology that is used in renewing the license. (The town's RFP had required the latest model of set top box and most recently introduced transmission medium.) Fiber is "the architecture of choice" according to AT&T, state-of-the-art wiring for advanced cable services -- TV, data networks and telephone.
The company also did not agree to the town's specification that the equipment, infrastructure and technical standards of the system be "equivalent to those provided to the top 10 percent of subscribers in cable systems operated by the company for at least a year."
Coverage and installation charges
The town's RFP also asked that the system be rebuilt along all public roads and private ways previously wired by Nashoba Cable/Cablevision and extended along all routes not previously wired by them, including all public roads and private ways leading to more than one home. (At present about a fifth of the town is not wired.) The company has agreed to do so.
The company says they will switch over current customers to the upgraded system at no cost, but that subscribers may have additional costs for equipment in their home required to access advanced services. They also propose to extend the length of a standard installation (no surcharge) to 150 feet from the federally required 125 feet; the town asked for 250 feet. The town had also asked to negotiate the surcharges for properties not previously wired and exceeding 250 feet, but the company refused on the basis that these rates are subject to federal regulation.
The town's RFP specified a five-year period for the license renewal, through October 2006; AT&T countered with ten years, citing the capital investment required to upgrade the cable system in Carlisle.
AT&T controls programs, ISPs
The town had asked that multiple providers of high-speed Internet service (ISPs) be made available in conjunction with cable modem offerings. Though stating that they are willing to provide a choice of ISP after current its contract with one provider expires in June 2002, the company refused to include such open access as a term of the license.
In the RFP the town had also asked that particular services be offered, including high-speed data service, at least 120 channels, capability for high-definition TV and video-on-demand (when available), and digital audio. The RFP also stated that the programming offered should "consider residents' preferences," as reflected in the cable committee's survey results, including channels à la carte and the Disney channel in any "family" package.
In response, AT&T claims discretion over what services and programs are offered to Carlisle subscribers, depending upon market conditions, again reminding the CCAC that the town "may not establish requirements for video programming and other information services," and that "high-speed data service and Internet access do not fall under the regulatory umbrella of cable television systems."
The RFP had asked that the town be more actively involved in monitoring and resolving complaints and that biannual written reports on system status, service improvement, complaint resolutions and plans for upgrades be submitted. In response the company agreed only to "comply with state and federal reporting requirements" and meet with town officials "at mutually agreed-to times." The company also agreed to "work with the towns of Carlisle and Concord to develop a workable studio arrangement" for local cablecasting and production, and would not increase support from the studio's current staffing level.
The senior discount of 20 percent for households with a subscriber aged 62 or older requested by the CCAC is "a form of rate regulation beyond the scope of authority of the town," AT&T reminded the town, though the written response promised that the company was willing to discuss a senior discount outside the license renewal process.
Facilities for town departments
The company agreed to provide cable installation for town-owned buildings and origination capability from the Town Hall, library, fire station and/or school, with the cost to be passed to subscribers. However, AT&T refused to provide cable modem or high-speed Internet access to town buildings unless required by federal law.
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