Edgartown selectmen Monday approved an NStar request to lay fiber optic cable under the harbor through an existing conduit. What was treated as a routine request appeared to those in attendance to be the first step by Comcast to provide cable television and Internet service to Chappaquiddick.
If it was a first step, it was a baby step. NStar made what it described as a preliminary request in order to have permission in place, when and if there is ever an agreement to install the technical infrastructure needed to provide cable service to Chappaquiddick. NSTAR owns conduits under the harbor, and along Chappaquiddick Road as far as Litchfield Road.
NSTAR representative Karen Corriveau told selectmen that NSTAR was doing the work for Comcast, which is currently negotiating a new 10-year contract to provide cable service to Martha’s Vineyard. In a telephone call Tuesday, NStar spokesman Caroline Pretyman provided the context.
“We attended the meeting in preparation for our requirements under any potential agreement with Comcast,” Ms. Pretyman told The Times. “In the course of moving forward, we knew that at some point we would need permission.”
Ms. Pretyman said there are no plans to begin the work until an agreement is in place between NSTAR and Comcast. She said talks with Comcast are ongoing, but there is no meeting scheduled at the moment.
A Comcast spokesman declined to comment on the NSTAR request.
Town officials said the infrastructure is only part of the issue. They are still negotiating with Comcast on how much Chappaquiddick residents would have to pay to connect to the cable service, particularly those who live some distance off the main road system.
“In the final analysis, will the deal be good enough to attract customers?” said Roger Becker, president of the Chappaquiddick Island Association. “If they can’t get the number of customers they’re looking for, nothing may come of it. There’s a lot more work. They have rules about how far they are willing to go, and after that the homeowners have to pay.”
Mr. Becker said that Comcast previously proposed that the association guarantee a certain number of cable subscribers, but town officials and Chappaquiddick residents agreed that proposal is unworkable.
“We have no ability to tax anyone or make any kind of deals with anyone,” Mr. Becker said.
Edgartown town administrator Pam Dolby said an agreement on a new 10-year contract with Comcast is very close. She expects further clarification of plans to provide cable service to Chappaquiddick later this week.
The reluctance of Comcast to provide cable service to Chappaquiddick and other remote parts of Martha’s Vineyard has been a sticking point during negotiations for a renewal of the cable franchise agreement under which Comcast now operates in the six Island towns.