Friday, April 26, 2002
AT&T hears Carlisle's cable frustration
At two contentious public hearings on the transfer of AT&T Broadband's cable license to AT&T Comcast Corporation, selectmen, members of the Carlisle Cable Communications Advisory Committee and frustrated citizens pummeled AT&T personnel on the schedule of promised upgrades to Carlisle's cable service. AT&T attempted to steer the discussion away from past performance by noting that approval of the license transfer should rest solely on an evaluation of "the cable expertise and resources of the combined entity."
AT&T Comcast is the result of AT&T's spin-off of AT&T Broadband and a simultaneous merger with Comcast Corp., a Pennsylvania-based supplier of broadband networks.
At the April 9 hearing, John Fouhy, director of risk management programs for AT&T Broadband, pointed out the new company will be the world leader in broadband with 22 million subscribers, and the balance sheet of the merged company will be stronger than AT&T Broadband's alone. He also expressed the company's commitment to provide "enhanced video, high-speed Internet, and local phone service at competitive prices," noting that $1.3 billion has been allocated by each company in 2002 for maintenance and upgrade of the cable systems.
Ted Shaw of StoneyGate took issue with Fouhy's limiting the discussion to financial, managerial and technical resources. "It doesn't matter to me how much money you've got if none of that is scheduled for Carlisle," he responded. Darice Wareham, chair of the cable committee, inquired about progress on the schedule to upgrade surrounding towns in preparation for upgrading Carlisle. "That's not my area," said Fouhy, reminding her that "past compliance with the license is not within the scope of the hearing." Robert Travers, manager of government affairs, who has been Carlisle's liaison, was not present.
Noting that approval could not be granted until a number of questions are answered, selectman John Ballantine suggested the cable committee submit a list of questions to AT&T.
At the continued hearing on April 23, Ballantine asked Elizabeth Graham, director of government affairs for AT&T Broadband, to review the answers to the list of questions submitted by the cable committee. Graham hedged her answers, stating that the status of service upgrades was "outside the scope of review for this hearing." However, though not required to do so for purposes of the transfer, she said that upgrades should be completed in Acton, Hudson, Maynard, Stow, Sudbury and possibly two other towns by early fall 2002. The Maynard head-end to which Carlisle will be connected, is scheduled for completion at the end of May 2002.
In response Wareham pointed out that AT&T had promised that the Maynard head-end would be on in the first quarter of 2002 and that apparently the schedule has slipped. Graham replied that the information the cable company had received earlier was "not set in stone."
"The amount of public outrage this company has been able to create in two to three years in business is hard to believe," asserted Wendell Sykes of Indian Hill Road. He recommended that the appropriate action for the selectmen is to approve the license for a minimal period of time so AT&T has "an incentive to actually do something."
After briefly deliberating in the hallway to reach a recommendation for the selectmen, the cable committee returned. "We feel we cannot in good faith recommend transfer," said Wareham. In renewing the AT&T license in October 2001, the committee "relied on AT&T's schedule as given to us. At that time they should have known they could not complete the head-end five months later." Wareham cited repeated promises made and promises broken by the same management team that will presumably continue under AT&T Comcast.
Exploring their options, Ballantine stated that if the board takes no action, by default the transfer is approved. Selectman Tim Hult suggested that the board put off a decision to confer with counsel on the implications of a negative vote. Selectman Doug Stevenson said to Graham that if the hearing is continued she needs to come back with additional information on technical and managerial expertise.
The hearing was continued until May 23 at 7:30 p.m.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito