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Comcast Wants $94,000 from Massachusetts Families to Install Cable Service

Broadband everywhere, except where it isn't.

Comcast is willing to install cable service for a neighborhood in Ashburnham, if six families agree to split the estimated $94,000 installation fee.

Paying more than $10,000 each just to get cable television from the nation’s largest cable operator is not a top priority for those living on Old Pierce Road and Rindge State Road, but getting reliable Internet access is.  Comcast officials have refused all requests to extend cable service to the families, because there are simply too few of them in the company’s eyes to justify the expense.

Families were surprised to find neither Comcast or Verizon interested in serving the neighborhood, because state broadband maps show coverage in Ashburnham from both the dominant cable and phone company.  Comcast suggested the families sign up for satellite Internet service or use a wireless provider instead.  But families complain paying Verizon Wireless or AT&T for mobile broadband is expensive and has resulted in rationed Internet use because of very low data caps.  Even worse, when the weather turns bad, the wireless Internet service effectively turns off.

The affected families want better answers.

“I’m not afraid to spend $400 to get out of a [wireless] contract if I can have Internet when it’s cloudy out,” James LeBlanc of Rindge State Road told the Sentinel & Enterprise. “But I don’t have $10,000 just sitting in my pocket.”

Wireless broadband for rural Massachusetts is simply not a serious solution for most because of the low usage allowances that accompany the service.

“It’s difficult when it’s raining out, and we can’t get online, and I have to tell my kids, sorry, you can’t do your homework tonight,” his wife, Wendy LeBlanc told the newspaper. “My oldest goes to Overlook (Middle School) and I’m going to have to send in notes for any assignments that require Internet research to be done at school.”

“It’s a hardship for our family,” said Brian Belliveau, of Old Pierce Road. “We don’t have enough Internet service. We get into situations where we use all of our data within the first two weeks of the month and have to go without it the rest of the month. Our kids are in school with kids who have service all the time, and they don’t understand why we don’t. It’s hard to explain.”

Comcast’s attitude so far has been ‘tough luck — it’s a money thing.’  Company officials simply won’t front the construction and installation costs because it would take too long to recoup that investment.  That leaves the families with few alternatives.

Although Ashburnham, a community of 6,000 in north-central Massachusetts, is considered “rural,” it is not nearly rural enough to qualify for federal broadband funding.  Besides, according to broadband mapping data supplied by area cable and phone companies, Ashburnham is already “well-served” with broadband.  But don’t tell that to families without Internet access.

Local officials were stunned the multi-billion dollar company wouldn’t assume upfront expenses in return for goodwill and devoted, long-term paying customers.

“I may be sort of old-fashioned, but a company sometimes has to do what is in the best interest of its customers to gain their loyalty,” Selectman Gregory Fagan said. “I’m offended when you say the company can’t afford it. Our schools are giving our children Internet assignments. There’s been discussion of giving tablets to all kindergartners. It’s not like in the ’80s when these things were a luxury. They are must-haves now.”

Currently there are 5 comments on this Article:

  1. Mileena says:

    Something’s got to be done about this. I had the same issue in several areas when I was looking to purchase a home. You go on the state or federal broadband map and it tells you TWC serves that address. You call TWC and they say no- not enough people on the street to run the line. They’ll do it for you- for $46,000- seriously, that is a quote I got for one house. Great house, great price, no way we could survive on satellite internet with 2MB up when you’re lucky, with ridiculous caps like 20GB.

    The next house we looked at, the neighbor, no more then 300ft down and across the street had TWC- but they still wanted to charge me $8,000 to run a line. The poles were already there, we’re talking maybe 400ft of cable line, $8000.

    It’s absurd, and this article makes great points- how can kids do their homework? How can people look for jobs, or the multiple other important uses for which, in this day and age, high speed internet is a necessity for? How can we compete with the rest of the world where most comparable countries have 10x(+) the high speed capabilities we have as it is?

  2. Oscar Gala says:

    I agree that it is completely absurd. We bought a house in Salisbury, New Hampshire last December. The left part of our road is in Franklin. The right part of the road is in Andover.

    Franklin has Metrocast and they say they won’t service us because we are in Salisbury and they don’t have a contract with them.

    Comcast services Andover and they say we are 1.5 miles away from their current end point and they would be willing to install cable for $45,000. They are willing to contribute $1,400.

    They counted 12 homes on that 1.5 miles of road. It’s ridiculous. Who has that kind of money laying around in these times just so that Comcast can instantly start making a profit?

  3. Sean Brown says:

    You realize that the ultra-high-speed countries – Japan, Korea, parts of Europe and the U.S. – are all highly urbanized right? It’s purely a scale issue, and not one of those countries’ corporations being less “greedy.” Rural areas of Japan, Korea, and Germany aren’t passed by nice cable nets either.

    If my neighborhood has houses 500 ft+ apart…well, it’s NOT the cable company’s “fault” that it’s uneconomical to serve me. Nonsense: it’s my responsibility. Yes: the laws of physics/conductivity, properties of materials (fiber, coax, copper), and labor costs don’t favor rural America. Hopefully, LTE will be available in 3-4 years with realistic bandwidth caps. In the meanwhile, whining about greedy Comcast/Time Warner not building out to homes seems to go against the spirit of free enterprise. If it really is a good investment for the citizens, why not try municipal broadband? Otherwise, it’s probably a good thing to keep in mind when considering which house to live in.

    Personally, I think the cablecos’ actions here are more ethical than many of the local telcos that promise upgrades or service extensions to rural areas which end up being delayed/fall through.

    • The best way to leverage away this issue is to renegotiate the franchise renewal agreement to compel cablecos to wire service areas that meet a lower population density test. Then the cost is wrapped into the general cost of doing business in an area. Most cable companies are not going to up and leave or refuse a franchise extension over this issue.

      As to Japan, et al., there are very rural service areas in all of the countries you mentioned. Northern Japan is much more agricultural and rural. Korea away from the coastal regions also has significant rural regions, and Germany obviously does as well. Regulatory policy compels providers in some of these countries to eat the cost of rural service provision, something the largely unregulated market in the US ignores.

    • Mileena says:

      @ Sean Brown. My reference to the other countries surpassing us in broadband speed wasn’t directly related to the topic of rural broadband, I should have been more clear. It was the point that the country in general needs to do something to keep up with them in this manner. Even our Metro areas such as NYC are just getting 50+Mbps broadband- this needs to be more widespread and competitive.

      Aside from that, yes, someone needs to take responsibility for getting broadband to rural areas, whether it be the cable companies or the government. The government has a rural broadband initiative, but from what I’ve read it will only cover areas that aren’t served by a local carrier- since the homes I looked at where defined as being serviced by TWC on the govt broadband map, they would not have covered these areas, even though technically TWC won’t actually provide service.

      My point was more that there need to be fundamental changes at how we view broadband access; it is no longer a luxury service, it is something that should be available to all at a reasonable cost, as it is instrumental in keeping our country and citizens moving forward in keeping with the rest of the world

      Aside from that, yes- I think TWC, Comcast, etc are exceptionally greedy- but I won’t get into all that as it takes us far off topic. One point though would be their explanations for the needs for broadband caps, that it costs them so much to provide broadband, whereas reports have shown their statements to be in many cases, false, or at the least, misleading. Not to mention the money they rake in promising to use on infrastructure, when in fact it just lines their pockets. But that’s an argument for another day…

      Philip, you make some great points, I agree 100%.

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