Residents of Braintree, Mass., last week overwhelmingly
voted their support of the municipal lighting company expanding into the cable television
City officials were surprised at the level of support for
the nonbinding referendum, which captured 82 percent of the vote, as it had been the
subject of little communitywide discussion.
The incumbent operator, Cablevision Systems Corp., opted
for neutrality and declined to comment on the vote afterward.
Cablevision declined an offer from the local newspaper to
rebut an essay by Walter McGrath, general manager of Braintree Light. The paper then
elected not to run McGrath's statement, either.
City officials said residents are dissatisfied with
Cablevision's service quality and annual price hikes.
The vote was called because the municipal utility has
considered adding video delivery in conjunction with a fiber optic upgrade for the
lighting plant. McGrath said the company is installing $3 million worth of fiber optics in
the city to read meters and control air conditioning and hot water units. The improvements
will also allow the city to provide Internet access and perhaps deliver power bills to
subscribers' home computers.
The improvements raise the plant to 750 megahertz and
McGrath said the city could provide cable at relatively little incremental cost, McGrath
He projected that the city could have a viable video
business if it captured half of Cablevision's approximately 9,400 customers. Even
though the city's lighting commission is supportive of the plan and has commissioned
an business assessment study by the firm of Stanley & Associates, it also scheduled an
election on the proposal.
"My commission feels it is important to hear from the
residents of the town," he explained.
The election experienced a relatively good turnout,
considering the lighting commissioner on the ballot was running unopposed.
Although the vote was nonbinding, the city has already
scheduled the discussion of a new article to its charter that would allow it to borrow
money for a video operation.
But before that, the lighting commission will meet later
this month with Residential Communications Network, the Boston Edison affiliate that is
overbuilding operators in Boston and its suburbs. McGrath said the city would like to
discuss a possible partnership with RCN Corp. as well as with Cablevision.
Meanwhile, refranchising talks continue between Cablevision
and Braintree officials.