PEPPERELL — Two months into their quest for adequately videotaped and/or broadcast town meetings, selectmen have been told a resolution might be at hand.
Town administrator Robert Hanson said he has been working with Dean Johnson of Charter Communications to wire the town meeting video cameras into the town’s communications network.
The latest bump in the road is gaining access during the summer months to the Nissitissit Middle School’s wiring room.
“There is a dollar sign attached but I think it will be relatively cheap,” Hanson said.
Charter Communications broadcasts, using town cameras, failed halfway through the May 1 Town Meeting, raising the ire of selectmen and prompting numerous complaints from residents.
Charter’s contract with Pepperell does not include town meeting work.
Hanson has also approached Verizon Communications about providing Pepperell with alternative cable access but his letters have not been answered.
“More than 50 towns have invited Verizon to come in, but nothing yet,” he said.
“They seem to be trying to lobby into a statewide contract and bootstrap a telecommunications package,” town counsel Edward Richardson offered.
The town attorney was referring to a bill, co-authored by Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, aimed at encouraging cable competition. Earlier in July both Panagiotakos and Rep. Brian Dempsey, chairman of the telecommunications committee, reported the bill was facing fierce opposition.
The bill would let cable companies apply to the state for licenses rather than negotiate individually with cities and towns. Five percent of revenue would become a franchise fee and 1 percent would go toward education and government programming. One argument against the bill is that it would take away local power to negotiate.
In previous meetings, Hanson told selectmen about reports Verizon is “cherry-picking” those communities it wants to work with. Hanson said the communications giant is paying attention only to areas, sometimes just sections within a community, with more wealthy inhabitants.
“That, of course, leaves Pepperell out,” Hanson said.
Chairman Darrell Gilmore expressed awe at the capabilities of just one fiber optic strand of the type Verizon has installed as far as the Rhode Island border. The strand, he said, can handle 200 television channels, three phone lines and Internet access.
“I’ve negotiated one (cable) contract (in another town),” he added. “I had to fight to see if Verizon was coming in.”
Previous town meeting broadcast solutions considered by the board included purchase of a VCR that could be worked into the local broadcast system and of VHF tapes that Charter Communications could broadcast over local access channels on a cyclical basis.
Hanson said Charter’s contract calls for 20 hours per week of local broadcasting.
Gilmore said a previous attempt by the town to conduct its own local broadcast required so much bandwidth that it “blew out” the town’s internal network.