CONCORD, NH – Residents of Concord have until October 4 to notify city councilors if they are interested in a second business offering internet, cable TV, telephone and other services over fiber optic cable, in direct competition with Comcast.
Concord City Council held a low-turnout public hearing on Monday to meet with officials from Atlantic Broadband, the eighth largest Internet provider in the United States, which also serves nearly 160,000 people in New Hampshire, and would like to start doing business at Concord. The council, by law, was required to hold a public hearing as well as two weeks of accepting written comments from the public before voting to order city manager Tom Aspell to begin negotiations with the company. Candace Bouchard, the pro tempore mayor, read an official statement (see below) on the process and purpose of the hearing – adding that council does not have the power to regulate rates, programming or service Internet that the company can provide.
Nadine Heinen, Regional Director of Operations, and Glenn Patch, Head of Construction Market Development for the company, provided a PowerPoint presentation outlining the company’s current scope of services in the United States. Atlantic Broadband, which is a subsidiary of Cogeco Communications of Canada, is a $ 2 billion per year company that provides services to approximately 1.6 million homes.
Most customers, including the 34 communities served in New Hampshire, have fiber optic cable with speeds of around 1 gig. Heinen said the company will use “fiber-to-the-home” technology, which is less prone to signal drop and limited points of failure.
“We’re bringing the best technology out there,” she said.
Heinen said the passive optical network system, wired into every home, will improve network reliability with lower outages, IP TV, cabling to residents, schools, hospitals and other businesses. The company will also have a $ 28 million hub on Sheep Davis Road. The company, she said, had “network resiliency during COVID-19,” while other companies have reported speed issues. Atlantic Broadband saw its usage increase but the network maintained capacity, she said. The company’s engineers, Heinen added, are actively monitoring his system for problems.
The company has a state-of-the-art network center in Rochester, serving both New Hampshire and Maine, to “catch things before they get into trouble,” Heinen said. Customers are offered a suite of advanced, “best-in-class” products with commercial services up to 10 GB. Digital television standards will be offered with encrypted technology and over 300 channels. The company offered “clear and transparent pricing” and a US-based call center to help customers as well.
Patch said the company has “been thinking about the future, for many years,” by offering 10 gigabyte speeds to businesses.
At-Large Concord City Councilor Fred Keach made a statement instead of a question and said he believes the move from Atlantic Broadband to Concord could lower Comcast’s prices. Competition, he said, would be a good thing.
Ward 6 Councilor Linda Kenison said she heard from people she knew in Laconia that the company was providing good service at prices significantly lower than Comcast.
Ward 3 City Councilor Jennifer Kretovic asked how many jobs would be created for Concord residents and spoke positively of the network hub that would contribute to the property tax base.
Heinen said the company has a lot of open positions, as do a lot of businesses.
Patch is expected to begin construction in December. After getting permission, he added, installations could begin as early as February 2022. The business will start first in the eastern part of the city, he noted.
An advisor asked if a customer center would be established in Concord. There was also a discussion about how customers would get the equipment and whether or not they should drive to Rochester.
“We don’t know the answer at this time,” she said of a customer service center in town.
Byron Champlin, another extraordinary city councilor, said he thought the presentation was light and didn’t touch on many of the eight points councilors needed to consider before making a decision. Heinen agreed to give more in-depth answers. Later in the meeting, Heinen revisited the matter and said she thought it was an in-depth presentation and had addressed many of the eight points. At the end of the game, Champlin met her and apologized for appearing aggressive on all eight points.
Champlin also asked about consumer packages versus personal channel selection – sometimes referred to as a la carte choice, something Comcast doesn’t offer. Heinen said the company was offering a single price that wouldn’t expire but offered a lot more flexibility. She called it “a huge win for our customers” instead of putting them in packages that expire.
Only three members of the public attended the meeting and two commented during the hearing.
Concord’s Denis O’Connell Sr. asked for more information on base pricing while adding that he hoped competition would lower the cost of services to the consumer.
Rich Woodfin of Concord backed another franchise saying it was “very pro-competitive”. He was also eager to learn more about fiber optic options, something he called “up front… game changing”. Woodfin also highlighted the situation in Bristol where managing director Nick Coates managed to get the city cabled with fiber optic which created more business and opportunities.
According to Jim Kennedy, the town’s lawyer, if the board votes to go ahead with the franchise, Aspell will use the Comcast deal “as a master key” and begin negotiations. Once the deal is done, there will be no public hearing. The board will simply vote to approve or reject the contract.
The official public text read by Bouchard on Monday:
Tonight’s public hearing is required by New Hampshire law, which is RSA 53-C: 3-a. Under this act, there are eight elements that we must consider before granting a franchise to Atlantic Broadband to provide cable service. These elements are:
1. If Atlantic Broadband has the financial capacity to operate.
2. Whether Atlantic Broadband has the capacity to provide adequate and technically sound facilities, equipment and signal quality.
3. Whether Atlantic Broadband has adequate channel capacity and facilities suitable for public, educational or government use, taking into account available technology, subscriber interest and cost.
4. The prohibition of discrimination between basic service customers.
5. Reasonable quality of service in terms of available technology, interest of subscribers and cost.
6. Whether the proposed construction and installation would comply with all applicable state and federal laws and regulations and the National Electrical Safety Code.
7. Si Atlantic Broadband will have competent staff capable of providing prompt and adequate service and of responding comprehensively to customer complaints or concerns.
8. Whether Atlantic Broadband will have reasonable rules and policies for line extensions and disconnections, customer deposits and billing practices.
For the purposes of this evening’s hearing, please note that there are 3 matters over which the City does not have the authority to regulate: (1) the rates that Atlantic Broadband would charge for its services; (2) the commercial programming that Atlantic Broadband chooses to broadcast on its cable systems; and (3) the Internet service that Atlantic Broadband may provide.
Please also note that the public hearing will remain open for the submission of additional written evidence for fourteen (14) days following tonight’s hearing. Therefore, this hearing will officially close on October 4, 2021.
At the City Council meeting on October 11, 2021, City Council will make a preliminary decision as to the viability of Atlantic Broadband to install, construct, operate and maintain a cable television system in Concord and, if applicable, will authorize the city manager to enter into negotiations with Atlantic Broadband to determine whether the parties can agree on the terms and conditions of a cable franchise agreement, subject to city council approval.
Do you have a tip? Send it to [email protected] Watch videos on Tony Schinella’s YouTube.com channel or Rumble.com channel.