The Board of Selectmen Monday approved RCN-BecoCom's application to provide cable television services to the town; it also gave the Cable TV & Communications Advisory Committee (CTCAC) the nod to go ahead and prepare a provisional license to that effect.
With the license in hand, RCN can move forward in getting the permits it needs to begin construction. The license requires the company to wire the whole town, thereby providing service to every household.
That project that is expected to take 18 months, but some residences may be wired within weeks once construction gets under way. However, there is no provision in the license for RCN to provide service to businesses.
To date, Cablevision has had the cable television market in Lexington all to itself. Its license will expire in 2001.
Bringing in a second cable operator will mean "real competition" in the cable market, according to CTCAC member David Becker. It will also translate into high-speed Internet access for its cable services subscribers, a service many have been demanding from Cablevision for some time.
Local and/or long-distance telephone service will also be available to residents when the capability exists on segments of RCN's system.
The company has also agreed to provide free Internet access to Town Hall, the schools, and other locations specified by town officials. RCN estimates the value of this service to be $25,000.
In the event that the company cannot provide these Internet services, it will give $25,000 to the town annually.
RCN has agreed to enhance the public schools' educational curriculum by providing cutting-edge technology. It has also agreed to cover major meetings and other town events at its own expense, raising the possibility that camera crews for Cablevision and RCN may be elbowing each other for room in some instances.
In addition, RCN will pay the town $50,000 annually, or 5 percent of its gross annual revenues, whichever is greater, with the payments beginning at the end of the first year of the final license, which will be for 10 years.
RCN, at its own expense, will construct a fiber-optic institutional network for the town's exclusive use, but it will be owned, maintained, and repaired by the company.
In a public statement issued Monday, the selectmen noted that they decided to look for an additional cable operator in April 1997, in hopes that competition would lead to "increased services and lower costs" for residents.
RCN was the only operator to respond to the selectmen's solicitation.
"We expect the licensing of RCN as an additional cable operator will benefit the citizens of Lexington with increased services and lower costs -- fulfilling the original objective we had when we began the additional-licensing process," Board of Selectmen Peter Enrich wrote.
The CTCAC's negotiations with RCN have resulted in a "good deal" for the town, Becker said, and Enrich echoed that opinion, as he thanked the committee for its thorough and professional handling of cable-related matters.
Once RCN signs the provisional license, the selectmen will consider it and, "if acceptable," will sign it, Enrich said.
Since Cablevision already provides the town with a studio for local broadcasting, CTCAC has not asked RCN to provide one as well. But once Cablevision's license expires in 2001, the possibility of having an independent studio may be considered, according to Selectman Betty Eddison.