April 20, 2017
By Phyllis Booth
PRINCETON – After more than two years of meetings, informational sessions, forums and public hearings to bring broadband service to Princeton, on Wednesday night, April 19, selectmen voted unanimously to award to Charter Communications an initial Cable TV license.
It was awarded as either as a provisional or final license.
The board took into account regulations set forth by the state Department of Telecommunications and Cable, license applications from Charter and Comcast, and the recommendations of the town’s Cable Advisory Committee, said select board chairman Stan Moss. As the town’s cable licensing authority, selectmen found the Cable Advisory Committee’s recommendation of Charter to be in the best interest of the town, he said.
The decision was based squarely on criteria set forth in the Issuing Authority report, putting a lot of emphasis on the draft license application, said Moss.
“Charter really nailed it,” he added. “On behalf of the board of selectmen, I thank the Cable Advisory Committee for their efforts; they worked very hard with some of the most impressive efforts I’ve seen.”
Cable Advisory Committee vice chairman Paul Caneen said the committee was cognizant that both applicants, Charter and Comcast, applied based on Mass Broadband Institute construction funds, and only one MBI allocation would be available, therefore the town could not award two licenses. Caneen said the committee reviewed the proposals in accordance with the town’s Issuing Authority Report and applicable law.
Based on those criteria, the Cable Advisory Committee recommended selectmen choose Charter.
According to Caneen, Charter’s proposal more substantially adopted the Town’s Issuing Authority Report and showed more overall commitment to meeting town needs.
Charter’s construction timetable includes a commitment to complete system construction within 12 months of a grant commitment from MBI, receipt of pole licenses and completion of the make-ready work.
The Comcast draft license did not include a proposed construction timetable.
Charter also proposed providing an educational access channel from Wachusett Regional High School at no cost to Princeton subscribers, and two additional channels for public and government access during the term of the license, if requested by the town.
Charter proposed providing capital funding in the amount of $25,000 for public or government access cable. In addition, Charter would provide another $25,000 in capital funding based on programming needs. Charter will provide a video return line at no cost to the town from either the Thomas Prince School or Town Hall if the town requests it for a future public or government access channel.
“After decades of not having cable service, the paramount public interest need of the town is to expedite the provision of cable/broadband and we are hopeful that Charter and Comcast both recognize and respect the Committee’s efforts to meet this need in context of helping as volunteers to execute a difficult and challenging process of cable licensing,” said Caneen.
Comcast was amenable to discussing and evaluating the need, technical feasibility, availability, and sustainability of content, and costs for public educational and government access channels and support during negotiations for a final license, but the draft license did not contain language about a framework for meeting future PEG access needs and interests of the town, said Caneen.
Selectman Jon Fudeman said he found the work of the cable committee to be “outstanding” and agreed with the recommendation of Charter.
During the public hearing, John Dower, of Old Colony Road, urged the board to reconsider its decision stating he had “reservations about Charter.” Dower said his son has extensive experience in IT management and has dealt with both providers for more than 15 years.
“The town would be happier if the town went with Comcast,” said Dower. “It doesn’t sound to me the Cable Advisory Committee gave Comcast the opportunity to provide information like they did Charter.”
“They [CAC] have been extremely thorough working through their concerns and heard both sides,” said Fudeman, who thanked Dower for his comments.
Moss requested that Town Administrator Nina Nazarian work with special counsel Bill August to draft an agreement with Charter.
Michael A. Chowaniec, Vice President- State Government Affairs for Charter said after the meeting that the company was pleased with selectmen’s vote.
“Our team is motivated to move ahead in a serious way. We’re obviously very pleased with the results,” he said. “To say this is a pressing need in the town is an understatement. In today’s world it goes to the quality of life and public safety.”
This is the first cable franchise license in 24 years, said Chowaniec. The Baker administration and MBI has been very involved, he added.