August 20, 1998
By EVA HENEY
A group of local, vocal "techies" told Cablevision representatives last week that high speed Internet access is more important to this community than more cable television channels or the company's proposed telephone service.
Tom Fortmann, a self-described Internet "old-timer," told Cablevision representative David Green at an Aug. 12 hearing at Town Hall that there is a "huge demand" in Lexington for the service, and urged him to address the demand forthwith.
"You're missing out on a lot of business," Fortmann said.
Fortmann was one of several residents who criticized Cablevision for failure to provide high speed Internet access in Lexington already. But as Greene pointed out, the town's five-year license with Cablevision requires his company to provide Lexington with cable services, but not with telecommunications services such as Internet access.
Lexington renewed its license with Cablevision in 1996, and last week's meeting was the first step in renewing the license which expires in 2001.
The selectmen are the issuing authority for licenses.
When Greene touted Cablevision's plans to upgrade its system in 39 communities -- part of that upgrade would include providing high speed access to the Internet -- and said the sooner Lexington commits to another agreement beyond 2001, the faster the rewiring will be done here, some present at the hearing objected to what they perceived as a threat.
"It sounds like Internet access is going to be held like a club, and that suggestion infuriates me," Fortmann said to Greene. "Get Lexington to the head of the queue."
Board of Selectmen Peter Enrich called Green's comments "troubling," and said he doubted they would "sit well" with the remainder of the board.
Another Internet old-timer, Jon Dreyer, said he has no interest in Cablevision's cable services, but he is ready to sign up with any operation offering faster Internet access.
Dreyer said he put a petition regarding Internet access on the Web and within two weeks -- without publicity -- it had acquired 100 signatures. "That's 1 percent of the households in Lexington. This is not the kind of community where you have to market. We're waiting for someone to come into town with a big, fat cable. Tell us where to sign and we'll sign," he said.
In response to comments from the audience, CATV member Julian Bussgang said that the town has been holding talks with Residential Communications Network, which already serves Somerville and has signed a license with Boston.
While reluctant to comment on the negotiations, Bussgang said Wednesday that RCN provides cable, telephone and Internet services.
"Once we converge on an agreement, we'll hold a public hearing," he said.
To make it financially feasible for RCN to enter any market, a 10-year license would be necessary, Bussgang said.
While Green said it would take up to three years to provide the additional services to all 39 Cablevision communities, it would take two to three months for Cablevision to complete its rewiring in Lexington.
Green disagreed with the interpretation the audience and some CATV members were reading into his comments. It is a matter of practicality, he said.
Licenses are expiring in a dozen communities within the next few months, and Cablevision is making rewiring commitments to those communities which are renewing their licenses, he explained.
"Everyone wants to be first," he said. "We could put Lexington first in the queue, but monies are allocated where we have legal and binding commitments."
Green said it would cost the company millions of dollars to rewire all of the 39 communities.
He denied "strong-arming" Lexington, and said this is not the only community eager to have Internet access.