HARVARD -- Bromfield Junior Philip Wesley told selectmen last week that a deal with ComCast would be "horrible for us" and suggested the town seek a new internet provider.
Speaking during the public comment segment of their recent meeting, Wesley advised against accepting the pending switch to ComCast from Charter Communications, which in his view is no great shakes, either.
ComCast is set to acquire the town of Harvard as a customer via a recent merger with Charter Communications, which currently provides cable TV and internet services in town but recently announced it was pulling up stakes.
At a previous meeting, Town Administrator Tim Bragan informed the board that after Charter pulls out at the end of this year, the town's new provider would be ComCast.
Wesley thinks that's a bad idea. Reading from a paper that clearly demonstrated he'd done his homework and knows his stuff, technically, he rattled off with aplomb the numbers of megabytes "most of us have" versus the number necessary for truly high speed internet and streaming video.
He said current ComCast customers suffer from 'low quality" service of the first kind.
Internet-connected viewing services provided by NetFlix, which recently raised its fees, might satisfy some customers, he said. "But what about other streaming video?"
Citing data compiled to make his case, Wesley said Comcast connections are inadequate for the speed-dependent uses he and his friends consider essential. And the company imposes "data caps" no matter what time of day it is. "If you download more that 300 megabytes a month," the bill goes up significantly, he said.
Apparently, for sophisticated users, that's about as bad as it gets.
"Charter is not the best option, either," Wesley continued. "But this is worse."
Rather than settle for s mediocre status quo, he suggested reaching out to other fiber optic firms for better offers. "We could have the fastest Internet in Massachusetts," he said. "Together, we can say no to ComCast."
Chairman Stu Sklar said it wasn't quite that simple.
"We do have a working group" looking into options as well as preparing to negotiate with ComCast, he said. But there are few if any choices for a town as small as Harvard, which lacks the population density most companies look for before investing resources.
Besides, the switch is federally-mandated, Sklar said. "We're not in the driver's seat."
What Sklar didn't add, however, is that the town has a vested interest in keeping its new connection as close to the old one as possible and the issue is more about cable TV than internet services.
Deals that towns like Harvard work out with companies like Charter and Comcast typically offer value-added community perks as well as the basics, including public access TV stations to air local meetings and events, seed money to buy equipment and annual allowances that cover operating expenses for groups that film, edit and broadcast local programs, such as the Cable Access Committee, which recently settled into a spiffy new broadcast facility at The Bromfield School.
Partially funded by taxpayers now, the CAC provides public access to equipment and the facility and partners with the school to offer student training programs.
COA needs new MART van
In other business, Bragan told the board that the Mart Van, which the Council on Aging uses to provide transportation for town seniors to medical appointments and other trips, is unsafe. It's old and rusty, has racked up a lot of mileage and breaks down a lot, he said.
Road repairs are an iffy proposition, he said, and anything the selectmen can do to "expedite getting a new one" would be a step in the right direction.
The selectmen acted accordingly, voting unanimously in favor of a motion to direct Bragan to write a letter on their behalf to the Montachusett Area Regional Transit Authority, describing the situation and asking for a new vehicle.