Voices of Princeton Series: John Kowaleski

In preparation for the coming events in September, I have asked several Princeton residents to provide their perspective on the upcoming vote. Here’s the fourth in this series by John Kowaleski. He focuses specifically on Comcast:   

I support inviting Comcast into Town. Yet everyone needs to better appreciate that it will not be free, it will simply shift and balkanize the costs. There is no free lunch. Be grateful that we have this choice at all and be vigilant we get the best deal. Volunteer to help in negotiations if you have the skills. After all, without Comcast, our only other viable option would be to build it ourselves.

Dear Fellow Princetonites,

If Comcast had come forth when Princeton engaged with them in 2013 or 2014 or 2015, we would not still be effectively un-served and struggling to get to a solution. Comcast would have been here already. Now Comcast still looks to be a good choice. But let us not overlook that it took $950k of the town’s money (make-ready) and $910k of the state’s money (also our money) to get their attention, and get them here to apply for a CATV franchise. (And let us not forget Mr. Dell’Erba’s persistence in email and the telephone begging them to come.)

Both dollar figures cited above are based on my understanding that the state reimbursement to the town will not happen with a Comcast CATV franchise. If this holds true, then for those who are financially motivated, let’s look closely at the numbers. Not getting reimbursed from MBI, the Town will be liable for that make ready bond as it accepts a Comcast franchise. On a six year note at 3.5% interest, the town will have to repay the $950k at an annual loan payment of just under $164k/year, which translates to about 37¢ added to the tax rate and an added $127 to an average residence in town each year. This is a 2.4% increase over the FY16 tax rate. That cost also assumes Comcast doesn’t ask for any more town ‘participation’, and it assumes that Comcast doesn’t pay the town an annual franchise fee.

These costs are known costs for Princeton having a Comcast franchise, not predicted risks. Choosing to assume these costs is perfectly legitimate.

The town building the network itself would not be put on the tax base as it would have been subscriber funded. The failure of a town network to service the bond is a possible fiscal risk, not a factual cost. And actually, the $164k/year the Town will have to commit for a Comcast deal would cover 59% of the bond service cost of a network build over the same period. Another view is that that same money could have subsidized the network at 143 subscribers below the projected the break even. Yet many seem willing to pay this to get Comcast. That is is okay and a valid choice.

So, choosing Comcast is not a bad way to go. We are knowledgeable enough to understand that in accepting them we are giving them a monopoly in town, like was done long ago for Verizon. And we understand that they are making strides to improving customer relations. Our experience will no doubt be better.

Nevertheless, there are a few things that the Town needs to understand. Unless it is in writing in a contract, it will not happen if it does not produce profit for Comcast. It will take some expert Town negotiators to come up with a fair agreement with them. Hopefully, that task will be directed by the Town Administrator. But if, in the end, the Town has no leverage, the results may be less beneficial for Princeton.

Further, the town must be vigilant subsequent to any agreement. For example, Comcast touts its help to low income families in its marketing presentations. The town must assure that those folks in town are aware of these opportunities and help them obtain them. Help your neighbors get and retain this benefit.

Also recall that all their advertised costs will not include electronics rentals, fees of all sorts and taxes. Unlike the town proposed network monthly costs, all of theirs charges may not be known until you get your bill. Ask your friends in Sterling. Or look at your Verizon bill. Don’t be surprised.

I support inviting Comcast into Town. Yet everyone needs to better appreciate that it will not be free, it will simply shift and balkanize the costs. There is no free lunch. Be grateful that we have this choice at all and be vigilant we get the best deal. Volunteer to help in negotiations if you have the skills. After all, without Comcast, our only other viable option would be to build it ourselves.

John Kowaleski
Coal Kiln Road

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12 comments

  1. Rick McCowan

    “After all, without Comcast, our only other viable option would be to build it ourselves.” This is not true! Matrix is a viable option.

    • John Kowaleski

      I do not consider Matrix as an option given its conditions, but if you do Mr. McCowan that is okay. I hope if it comes to getting to an agreement with Matrix, you will be involved in the contract negotiations so that we get a good deal.

  2. Harry Strock

    Thank you John for pointing out Comcast’s grab for our $900k.

    Oh, lest you think the touted $9.95 /mo ConnectME program is a give back to the town, think again. My most recent Comcast bill for our rental in Maine has a ConnectME Fund surcharge! Yes, we pay for it, then Comcast “gives” it back. How is that for slight of hand accounting.

    Here is the list of “Other Charges and Credits” and “Taxes, Surcharges and Fees” from my bill Broadcast TV Fee $5.00 Regional Sports Fee $3.00 Franchise Related Cost $0.47 $8.47

    Franchise Fee $4.48 ConnectME Fee $0.22 FCC Regulatory Fee $0.08 Service Provider Tax $5.42 $10.20 That is $18.67 on a $134.58 bill (Internet 20Mbps $57 + TV digital starter $78)

    We will get what Boston gets — I wonder what their Other Charges and Fees amount to?

    Now that I am griping, here is another.

    Comcast “partners” with MBI and gets $4 million in state funds to patch the holes in existing Comcast systems — “extend broadband access in “partially served” ( nine ) western Mass towns” totaling 1089 new residences. The Aug 30 source of this information states expansion costs will be fully covered by MA and Comcast. This suggests the cost to plug the gaps for 1089 residences will be greater than $4 million.

    Princeton PBMLP proposed building a totally new network to serve all Princeton residents, about 1300 premises. A totally new network serving 30% more customers in only one town is bound to cost Comcast more than $4 million —

    Do you for a minute think the State is going to pay Comcast to do that in Princeton! We are going to pay that and a handsome profit too — to Comcast, you can be sure of that. We can sell our future to Comcast or we can make our own decisions to assure a stronger, better future for Princeton.

    Pull together to assure a successful town network.

    >

  3. Laurie Cote

    And let us not forget where MBI’s money comes from….the TAXPAYER. The very place that the naysayers of the town build say should not be in the internet business. The irony is amazing.

  4. David Partridge

    I am new to the town and still trying to learn more about this issue. I am looking forward to the information session. Would the town network provide TV and Internet or just internet? I am assuming Comcast would be providing both?

    • Laurie Cote

      The town network would provide internet only. Most of the town builds who have been succesful have been successful with internet only. It was adding the video that made them unsuccessful.

      And to Rick McGowan, Matrix is only an option to YOU because you would not be one of the 20% of the town left out.

      • David Partridge

        OK thanks for the clarification… That is what I was hoping. Could you point me to any information available outlining the plan for the town run network?

  5. John Kowaleski

    David,
    There is lots of information on connectingprinceton.com . Click on the tabs at the top of the page to find what you want. If you cannot find anything, leave a message on my blog and I will be happy to give you all the details you want.
    kowaleski.org/public_html/Wordpress/

    /johnk

  6. Phil Gransewicz

    How about opening up a “Why I don’t want Comcast in Princeton” thread in order to provide an opportunity for people to post?

  7. Phil Gransewicz

    So who will be vetting Comcast? Poking around the internet readily turns up a lot of negative information on Comcast. Google “Comcast Confessions”. See why Greenfield decided to do their own town build even though they had Comcast already in town. Greenfield has their cable agreement posted and it has some interesting reading on what Comcast puts into these agreements. (Google Greenfield Cable Advisory Board) It is fair to say, it is all to the benefit of THEIR bottom line.

    Open your eyes citizens of Princeton to what you are inviting into Princeton and what it will cost. As John states, there is no free lunch. They see a golden opportunity to come to Princeton for free, thanks to our tax dollars (local and state).

    I will end with this section from the Greenfield agreement with Comcast for the people of Princeton to ponder:

    A standard aerial installation charge shall be established by the Licensee which shall apply to any residence located not more than two hundred feet (200′) from the existing aerial Trunk and Distribution System and additions thereto.

    Now how far are you from the road???

  8. jedjr13

    You Sir are largely the reason Princeton is going to be brought into the future and I for one would like to thank you for all your hard work. Obviously it has not turned out quite the way we would have liked it to , however it will be a vital step towards Princeton’s future and anyone who cannot or will not recognize your contribution must be blind. Saddened by the select board’s choice of granting Charter Comm. the license my hopes are still high for what’s next. Thank you again .

    Jack Dower

    ________________________________

    • John K

      Jack,
      Thank you for your kind thoughts but I am but one of scores of folks who put in lots of time and effort to get broadband into town, not the least of whom is Mr. Moss. I am pleased to have had some way to help the Town.
      I am somewhat ambivalent about tonight’s selection of Charter over Comcast. To me one telecom monopoly looks the same as another, but either will bring us into the 21st century and for that I will be grateful. Fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong before it happens.
      The introduction of DOCSYS into town (assuming a contract can be reached and the lawyers and state don’t interfere) is close enough to fiber GPon to get us very reasonable performance at DOCSYS 3.1 if not under DOCSYS 3.0 and we will finally be able to move on from WiMax and Hotspots and HughesNet and low tier DSL. Princeton’s population will stabilize or increase a bit. More young families will move in. The median age will be lowered. More folks can enjoy Princeton’s rural character. All good things, imho.
      I have had an email account in one form or another since 1975. I remember getting access to the daily AP news-feeds in 1983.
      In 20 years there shall be no one left even in Princeton who questions the efficacy and utility of broadband in their lives. We have made a start. Thanks again.

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