Are we wired yet?

COPAKE—Broadband internet and cable television service both can ride into our homes on fiber optic lines.

Consolidated Communications is one of the corporations that has been stringing fiber optic cable across the county in the statewide initiative to connect thousands of homes and businesses to long-awaited broadband internet service.

Now that most of the cable is installed many local municipalities are being asked to sign on for cable television services, too.

But not everyone is jumping at the chance.

Prior to the Copake Town Board meeting February 14, a public hearing was conducted on an application by Berkshire Cable Corp (BCC) d/b/a Consolidated Communications, Inc., (CCI), which asks the town to award the corporation a cable television franchise like the one Spectrum (Charter) already has.

Speaking during the public hearing, Copake Broadband Committee Chair Deb Cohen told the Town Board to “take the application very seriously and not simply sign the document.”

She said nothing is more important to Copake economically than broadband internet service, noting, “Businesses don’t want to come here because we don’t have access to 21st century technology.” Geographically, she said, “50% of the town, even the densest populated areas, are not served. It’s the economy, people.”

Town resident Jane Birnbaum said Consolidated has already been given the opportunity to provide broadband internet service and they’ve “done a miserable job. Why give them carte blanche to provide cable when they haven’t provided broadband?”

Andrew Fisher, a member of the town’s Broadband Committee, asked the board to allow the committee to review the franchise contract to see if it is in line with what the town should have. He said the proposed rates “look incredibly expensive compared to the competitor’s.”

Jon Strom, chair of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, described his residence as located at the “end of the line” for both the electric and telephone companies. He said, “No one wants cable TV anymore,” adding, it’s about wanting “to expand the fiber optic network.”

Pete Mercer, an engineer with CCI, who said he spent 38 years with Taconic (CCI’s predecessor), said CCI’s intention is to apply for a cable TV franchise. He said broadband “falls outside the realm of the application. They are two separate entities. CCI wants to provide cable TV under the same terms and conditions as Charter.”

Copake Falls resident Robin Bruce told Mr. Mercer, “We are not served.”

He responded that service areas were awarded by the state. “How accurate was it? Your recourse is with the State of New York—Empire State Development (ESD).”

In 2016 Governor Cuomo announced a statewide initiative to bring broadband service to underserved areas, rolling out defined service areas in several phases.

Resident Carol Collins asked what impact the litigation Charter/Spectrum is now involved in would have on getting a new provider.

Town Supervisor Jeff Nayer said Spectrum could be sold to another company.

Broadband Committee member Stephen Hoppe said in a letter to the board, “…it is imperative” that the Town Board consult with the Broadband Committee prior to entering the franchise agreement. Even though more than $4 million has been spent by the state on the NY Broadband Program “there are still areas of Copake that will not have access to Broadband… Consolidated’s fiber-to-home service is the best solution long term for broadband service currently available as long as it is available on your street. While this agreement will add an additional television service provider to the town, our underserved broadband areas still need addressing.”

Mr. Hoppe said the committee thinks it is important to have CCI “agree to serve the underserved areas of Copake as part of any franchise agreement with the town.”

In a subsequent board discussion, Mr. Nayer said the town can’t make demands about broadband in the cable TV agreement and has to investigate them as separate entities.

Councilperson Jeanne Mettler noted that “the board can’t say ‘we’re not going to give you this franchise unless you do this, this and this.’” But the board “can take the company’s history into account along with what they have promised and what they’ve delivered.”

In a follow-up email this week, Ms. Cohen said the town board agreed to let the Broadband Committee review and comment on the proposed agreement—but the committee has not yet seen it.

“I have no objection in theory to the proposal. My request to the board was that it use the opportunity to leverage as much as possible from [CCI] including, for example, laying underground fiber conduit within the hamlet when the sidewalk construction project is undertaken and obtaining other similar commitments to expand fiber coverage in town,” she wrote.

The town has up to six months to do its due diligence, if needed, before deciding on the agreement, CCI Consumer Product Management representative Vicky Gronquist told The Columbia Paper this week. Ms. Gronquist appeared at the February 21 meeting of the Ancram Town Board to answer board questions about the franchise agreement CCI has proposed in Ancram.

Ms. Gronquist said CCI was awarded 206 addresses out a possible 361 in Ancram or 57% and 276 addresses in Ancramdale out of a possible 376 or 77%. She said the state did not award any provider the Boston Corners territory. She said eventually an agreement may be reached with the state to provide for those underserved and unserved areas.

Ancram has set a public hearing on the CCI franchise agreement for March 21 at 6:45 p.m. prior to the next Town Board meeting.

Ms. Gronquist said by phone this week that CCI’s cable TV is IPTV (Internet Protocol television) and is delivered via the same fiber optic cable as broadband. She said CCI has five years to build-out the service but will initially make the service available to awarded addresses and addresses CCI lines pass by.

Contacted for additional information, CCI Corporate Communications Manager Kathleen Rankin said by email, “Consolidated Communications (CCI) bid for all the census blocks in our service territory to build out fiber and the NY ESD determined the grant awards. In addition, CCI has invested company capital funding to extend and install fiber services to customers outside the grant census blocks that we pass with our fiber network. We have been taking orders for every grant awarded address since 1/2/19. Our build is 99% complete; and we have a few miles remaining and we are working with property owners to complete it.”

In Copake, CCI was awarded 538 addresses out of 853 or 63% and in Copake Falls—73 addresses out of 166 or 44%.

“CCI has been offering cable TV in Kinderhook for decades and that is separate from our current initiatives,” Ms. Rankin wrote. Ghent has approved the franchise agreement with CCI and “we are waiting for New York State Department of Public Service approval to complete the franchise process,” she wrote.

She also said that the company is negotiating franchise agreements in Ancram, the Village of Chatham and the Town of Copake.

The matter has also come up in the Town of Canaan, according to a report in the February 21 issue of The Columbia Paper.

To contact Diane Valden email moc.r1568567406epapa1568567406ibmul1568567406oc@ne1568567406dlavd1568567406

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