Friday, October 12, 2001
Cable committee scurries to meet deadline
A frustrated cable committee, accompanied by representatives of AT&T, appeared again before the board of selectmen on October 9 with a proposed contract from AT&T Broadband, significantly different from what was presented on September 18. On that date, Darice Wareham and Paul Gill received congratulations from the board as they reported significant concessions on the part of AT&T, whose contract for cable service to Carlisle expires October 14.
The outlines of the contract presented on September 18 included cable service upgrades within 18 months guaranteed by a performance bond of $300,000. The service upgrades would provide greater cable speed and allow for better pictures, wider channel access, and high-speed Internet access. Under this scenario, AT&T would have forfeited the $300,000 bond and the contract time would have dropped from ten years to five if the upgrade weren't provided within the 18-month period. Another concession provided for the wiring of the entire town (with a few exceptions) within 24 months.
But that picture was just a little too rosy. On September 26 the committee received a proposal containing none of the changes they believed they had negotiated with AT&T's manager of government affairs Rob Travers. Only a few concessions were allowed that, according to Gill, "didn't amount to much." The proposal allowed for a ten year contract with service upgrades in 24 months, not 18, and a performance bond of only $100,000. Alternatively, a short-term renewal contract of 36 months was offered with no provision to upgrade the system. Said Gill last week of the new proposal, "There were no significant strides during an entire summer of negotiation. It's very disheartening."
Rob Travers and AT&T's director of government affairs Liz Graham defended the proposal at the October 9 meeting. Said Graham, "The performance bond was the issue. We had agreed to reduce the contract to five years (from ten) if upgrades weren't completed in eighteen months. From our side, that's a significant penalty, and we just couldn't agree to a $600,000 performance bond." From her point of view, the purpose of bond was not to guarantee upgrades within 18 months, but was for "other performance-related issues." She felt the offer by AT&T of a $300,000 bond had been rejected by the cable committee and pointed out that 18 months was "the most aggressive deadline offered any community."
Wareham countered that the committee's intent had not been to reject the $300,000 performance bond but to negotiate for an amount as high as possible. Town administrator Madonna McKenzie pointed to lapses in performance by AT&T in its current contract with Carlisle and defended the idea of a bond as leverage. "The town has reason to doubt this will all happen," she said.
Selectman Vivian Chaput then asked, "If the bond isn't to guarantee upgrades, what good is it?" Graham answered that AT&T would not agree to the bond's guaranteeing an 18-month upgrade. "In reality the upgrade will not be completed in 18 months. Twenty-four months was what was [first] offered and what is realistic."
Attempting to find some common ground, selectman Tim Hult asked, "Would the performance bond be acceptable if it were 24 months?" Responded Graham, "We are willing to commit to the performance bond." McKenzie then asked if the $300,000 level could be agreed on. Graham responded that she would have to clear that, but could get back to the cable committee the next day.
"Sounds like we have the outlines of an agreement coming into place," summarized chairman John Ballantine. It was agreed the cable committee would meet Friday morning with the selectmen to attempt to reach a contract agreement before the Saturday deadline.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito