TRURO — More residents in areas currently without broadband service will soon be able to get connected, following a breakthrough in negotiations with Comcast — though exactly how many will gain access is still unknown.
The town administrators of Truro, Wellfleet, Eastham, Orleans, and Brewster are close to inking a new 10-year license agreement with the cable company that lowers the minimum density required to provide broadband service to neighborhoods. The old agreement required there be at least 25 houses per linear mile on any one street for Comcast to provide broadband to it. Under the new contract, a minimum of 15 houses per linear mile will be needed, said Truro Town Manager Rae Ann Palmer.
“That would be revolutionary,” said Mia Baumgarten, chair of the Wellfleet Cable Advisory Committee, noting the issue of less dense areas going without adequate connectivity has been longstanding.
Negotiations have ended, but the final license has not yet been signed by the towns’ select boards, Palmer said. Comcast spokesman Marc Goodman would not comment because the agreement is not final.
The pandemic has changed where and how people work. Many part-time residents hope they can hunker down in the woods of Truro and do their jobs with little more than a phone and a laptop. But Comcast’s so-called “density factor” thwarts many who work from home here.
Every 10 years, the towns of Truro, Wellfleet, Eastham, Orleans and Brewster renegotiate terms with Comcast as a block. On the table each time is what percentage of the fees paid to Comcast by customers goes back to each town to support public access television and government programming, like the recording of public meetings. The density factor is always raised, especially by Truro and Wellfleet, said Palmer. But the towns never had success changing that standard, said Mary Abt, a member of the Truro Cable Advisory Committee.
No one could tell the Independent how many homes do not have broadband now, nor was there an estimate of how many would get it with the new lower density factor. A Truro Cable Advisory Committee study conducted in 2010 found that between 65 and 198 properties did not have Comcast broadband capability.
In spite of not knowing how many will benefit, Palmer said this change was worth fighting for.
When Comcast refused to lower the density factor, “We said, ‘No. We’re not going to sign a license,’ ” Palmer said.
Both towns have homes in the Cape Cod National Seashore, where there is a three-acres-per-lot zoning requirement. That puts a lot space between homes, Palmer said.
Now more than ever, a fast internet connection is a necessity rather than entertainment, said Teresa Martin, executive director of Lower Cape Community TV.
“Yet the Federal Communications Commission has decided that broadband is not a utility,” Martin said. “This discussion has been going on for decades.”
And it’s not likely to change, Martin said, under current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who did not come to the job from public service, but instead had been an industry lobbyist.
“Comcast,” Abt said, should have been a public utility. “Then they would have to get to everybody.”