With Edgartown noticeably unrepresented, the Islandwide group responsible for negotiating a new franchise agreement with Comcast turned its attention this week to Vineyard neighborhoods other than Chappaquiddick that lack cable television service. Areas at issue include Indian Hill Road and Seven Gates in West Tisbury, and Quansoo, Middle Line Road and Meeting House Way in Chilmark.
Members of the cable advisory committee want Comcast to provide service to neighborhoods that have at least 10 underserved homes per one-mile stretch of road; Comcast has estimated the costs of providing service to certain areas, but has not agreed to any plan.
Chilmark executive secretary Timothy Carroll expressed his displeasure with Comcast’s survey of the underserved homes, and said Comcast was refusing to provide cable to the Middle Line Road affordable housing development because it would have to build a node and conduit, even though a conduit already exists on the main road off Tabor House Road.
“They’re talking about $11,000 to install cable into a place I know cable goes past,” he said. “I just don’t know how to assess their data because it sucks.”
Carroll’s comments came as the cable advisory committee met via conference call Wednesday with its attorney, William Solomon of Stoneham. Edgartown officials said last week they would boycott the cable talks until a draft contract with Comcast included service to Chappaquiddick, and no one from the town was present for a second straight week,
Comcast has said it is in discussions with NStar to use the power company’s underwater conduit to extend cable service to Chappaquiddick, but no final agreement has been reached. Building its own conduit would cost about $2 million, Comcast has said.
Mr. Solomon recommended this week that the board give Comcast and NStar another month to reach agreement.
“I think the position is, you need to get it done and if you don’t have it done within [a month] then it can’t be a private process anymore,” Mr. Solomon said. “They need to agree to a process, be it mediation or town involvement, some process that allows a resolution for the dispute between them. It can no longer be a private negotiation because that hasn’t worked.”
There was little discussion or reaction from non-Edgartown board members, most of whom were present for the meeting, and Mr. Solomon said the standards applied to providing services to areas not serviced now across the Island should be applied to Chappaquiddick as well. The 10-homes-per-one-mile-standard the committee is seeking would cover Chappy, he said.
After the meeting Mr. Solomon said he hasn’t spoken to town administrator and town representative Pamela Dolby about how to proceed, but confirmed the town has still retained his services. Mr. Solomon said he’s only had conversations with Comcast and has not spoken to NStar.
“There’s been some indication from Comcast that issue would have a resolution between Comcast and NStar so maybe that’s the case, but if so we need to understand what that is,” he said in a telephone interview. “If it hasn’t been resolved it needs to be a different process other than two parties negotiating in private.
“I think both parties understand it’s now time to address all the issues and give a good faith attempt to get this completed,” he said. “I think both parties understand this is something that needs to occur in the next month. I think Comcast sees it that way.”
Much of the cable advisory committee’s meeting was devoted to clarifying priorities for the Comcast contract, beginning with “build out,” that is, providing service to areas currently not served by the cable company.
Other priority items include providing service to public places, including some but not all of the Island schools and libraries, the Tisbury fire department and new emergency management center, the town halls, the YMCA and Owen Park and Veterans Park for live feed of games and events.
Tisbury representative Fred LaPiana said he wants to see lowered rates and a senior discount, and pointed out a lower median income in Massachusetts with significantly higher rates was unfair.
“I think it’s unethical and I think we should do something about it,” he said.
Priority lists have been passed back and forth several times with Comcast, and West Tisbury representative and cable advisory board chairman Jennifer Rand pressed for a firm deadline.
“We don’t want to revisit these things in three weeks and have [Comcast] say we weren’t clear,” she said. “At this point we’ve said what we want and been clear what we want. Are we getting to a point where they simply have to say something?”
Mr. Solomon said they were, and last week put a new deadline of February on the negotiations, but was wary to name a specific date. He said similar negotiations on Cape Cod, New Bedford and Fall River lasted three years.
“It’s taken a while, but as licenses go this is a fairly expeditious undertaking,” he said.