New cable firm could start operating in Concord as soon as February

Monitor staff
Published: 9/21/2021 4:57:16 PM

Concord could have competing cable television systems as early as February if the city approves Atlantic Broadband’s request for a contract, something that can’t happen soon enough for some.

“I’m a fan of this competition and hoping that it will result in the lowering of the cost of these services,” city resident Denis O’Connell told the City Council at a public hearing Monday. “We do need competition.”

Atlantic Broadband, the U.S. arm of Canadian firm Cogego Communications, wants to build a fiber-to-the-home network throughout the entire city, according to Monday’s presentation by Nadine Heinan, the company’s regional operations director.

Bringing internet signals to homes over optical fibers was once a small part of online service due to cost but a recent push fueled by pandemic demand and government support is expanding it rapidly. The phone company Consolidated Communications is installing fiber-to-the-home in dozens of southern New Hampshire towns, replacing slower internet service over copper lines, while the town of Bristol has drawn regional attention for a public-private network that is putting fiber-to-the-home in a number of area communities.

This expansion is threatening the control that cable television firms have long held over high-speed internet service. In many places in the U.S., including much of New Hampshire, broadband over cable modems has long been the best choice for high-speed residential internet service.

Atlantic Broadband already serves 34 towns in New Hampshire through a regional operations center in Rochester, N.H., that also handles Maine. It has about 1,400 U.S. employees, including 224 in New Hampshire and Maine, plus contractors, Heinan said.

Atlantic Broadband is the country’s eighth-largest cable firm with customers in 12 states. It is continuing expansion, having just bought a cable provider in Ohio.

It advertises internet symmetrical service with speeds of 1 gigabit, or 1,000 megabits, and options up to 10 gigabits. Heinan acknowledged that the future business model of cable providers will hinge on internet service more than traditional cable television service.

Concord is halfway through its current 10-year contract with Comcast, which has been the city’s only cable TV provider for decades. Comcast’s business has increasingly been dependent on internet service through its cable modems, which can offer 1-gigabit service.

Much of Monday’s short public hearing on the request concerned two issues that tend to dominate consumer interest in their cable provider: Price and service.

“One of the primary concerns is cost to the consumer. I have talked to people in Laconia, there’s an indication that your costs are significantly less than Comcast,” said Ward 6 Councilor Linda Kenison.

Under the state’s cable franchise law, Concord has no say over what prices are charged by providers, nor what channels it provides or anything about its internet service. Concord does, however, have a say over general service and reliability, and several councilors questioned whether adding Concord would overwhelm the company’s service department, and whether a service center could be built in the city. Heinan was noncommittal on the last point.

The proposal is open to public comment through Oct. 4. Comments can be sent to cityclerk@concordnh.gov. 

The issue will be taken up by the City Council at its Oct. 12 meeting, when they can make a determination of viability and authorize the city manager to enter negotiations over a contract. That contract is required to be similar to Comcast’s on most points, including such things as connections for city and school buildings, and cable access channels.

Glenn Patch, Atlantic Broadband construction manager, said he is in the process of leasing space on utility poles so the company can string cables if the city signs a franchise contract. Getting access on poles, which are owned either by the telephone or electric company, has often been an obstacle to telecom firms.

Patch said Atlantic Broadband could start signing up customers in some neighborhoods as early as February and that hooking up the entire city would take about a year if all goes well, he said. The company estimated the total work in Concord, including building a connection hub on Sheep Davis Road, would cost $28 million.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)
David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of the monthly Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.



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