Tuning in to rural Moultonboro cable access


June 10, 2009
MOULTONBORO — After years of trying to get "on the grid" several Moultonboro residents got a few answers in their quest for cable television in their neighborhoods.

Michael Edgecomb of Time-Warner came to a meeting of the selectmen last week to answer the questions about residents' cable service - or lack thereof. In the past, some residents in rural areas of the town had expressed frustration in their inability to link to cable service from Time-Warner, or the companies that preceded it.

Many of the concerns brought to Edgecomb's attention last week dealt with the problems in getting cable coverage to the Sheridan Road neighborhood. According to Edgecomb, when the town was served by Adelphi (which Time-Warner took over), the company looked at Sheridan Road in 2006 and determined that it did not meet their density standards of 15 homes per mile - it averaged at 9.5 homes per mile.

When Time-Warner took over, Edgecomb said, the density standards were changed, allowing the company to "let it ride" on Sheridan Road. Soon after they started looking at it, the standards were changed again, and the road no longer qualified. The company must have a set average per linear mile, Edgecomb said, in order for them to make a profit.

"Twenty-five to thirty homes per mile is where the bean counters say we can make a profit," said Edgecomb. "Once we built, we can make a profit, minus pole rental and maintenance. The actual profit, at 25 homes per mile, is a seven-year payback. Less than that, and it will take years."

Selectman Betsey Patten asked Edgecomb if the company would be willing to build if the people living on Sheridan Road were willing to pick up some of the cost. Edgecomb said he would take that question back to the company, to see "how much we can absorb." Patten said she knew some towns were working to bring in broadband access with stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but it was likely further north.

Selectmen and residents expressed a bit of frustration at the lack of communication about the density standards. Selectman Joel Mudgett requested that the company engage in more communication with the residents and board of selectmen.

"It bothers me," said Peter Jensen. "Costs have gone up since then, and the ability for us to request franchise fee funds may change. First it was 20 homes per mile, now it's 25 homes per mile. At that time, we were about 25 percent away from density, now we're a lot further away."

Residents can request an amount from the franchise fee fund to help bring in cable access to their neighborhood, subject to approval at Town Meeting.

Town Administrator Carter Terenzini noted that Bodge Hill Road was another neighborhood in consideration for use of the fund. Edgecomb told him that it takes a week or two to decide if a particular area meets requirements for cable access.

Edgecomb also answered the question of the disappearance of Channel Four - in short, he said it had been taken off the air.

"What happened to Channel Four?" asked Sally Carver. "I pay my bill and it's gone. It's a good thing that the game wasn't playing on it."

According to the Federal Communications Commission, Edgecomb said, if a channel's status is out of market - Channel Four was from Portland, known as "out of market," but has a significant viewership, it must be kept on the air in that out of market area. Since it was not drawing in a significant amount of viewers, the channel was removed from the lineup. Edgecomb said that this is also tied to advertising, and the company's wish to expand bandwith. The goal is to have over 100 stations with high-definition status by the end of the year, he said.

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