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Pine Plains residents concerned about Altice franchise renewal

PINE PLAINS — The Pine Plains Town Board heard comments and concerns about its franchise agreement with Cablevision Systems Dutchess Corporation (best known as Altice) at a public hearing on Thursday, June 16, at Town Hall at 7 p.m., shortly after the meeting opened. In addition to Attorney to the Town Warren Replansky, the board welcomed representatives from Altice.

Replansky explained a franchise agreement was negotiated between the town and Cablevision over a number of months. In that time, he said they went back and forth and made changes to the proposed contract, which was reviewed by the Public Service Commission.

Two Altice representatives then spoke and assured the public their comments would be heard  and considered.

Drawing from his 20 years as an independent consultant and documentary filmmaker, town resident Stan Hirson outlined his familiarity with policies regarding universal service. He shared his concerns about the number of providers the town currently has in place and the power system that supports cable.

Hirson added broadband is a major issue given how isolated the community is. He said it shouldn’t be considered a luxury but a necessity. He called Altice’s plan, “dense, boiler-plated,” and said while it’s fine for larger communities like Hyde Park and Poughkeepsie, it needed an explanation “in plain language why [Pine Plains is] not served by fibre… and for the people who can’t be served, I think they should be offered some sort of free wireless service in town so you can go someplace and get high speed broadband.”

Hirson added, “We’re a rural community, we don’t need the boilerplate… We need to get out of this isolation that is killing us.”

Resident Betsy Zimmerman asked if Altice is related to Cablevision; the representatives replied Altice used to be known as Cablevision. Asked how that would impact service, the representatives explained the infrastructure hasn’t changed — just ownership  — and that Altice is investing millions of dollars to upgrade its infrastructure.

They said the company’s fibre optic trunk lines that were put in 20 years ago are being replaced with all copper truck lines and fibre optics. The result is more reliable service and better signal quality, and a greater capacity for internet, phone and television service.

The objective is to replace the last mile of copper cable and have fibre optics run into homes, replacing copper lines altogether.

While that’s still a couple years away from being completed, especially in rural areas like Pine Plains, the Altice reps said it will give customers higher gigabit speeds of data for internet service. As more devices become internet-friendly, infrastructure must expand to handle it, they said.

Matt Finley, a member of the Pine Plains Broadband Committee, said the group formed at the Town Board’s request and took no position in the contract’s renewal, as it wasn’t charged to do so.

Seeing as the contract’s non-exclusive, he said the town has nothing to lose by continuing the franchise agreement. While he said there would be chaos if Pine Plains switched servers, Finley advised the Town Board to beware there are better service options out there, such as Spectrum. Finley said he hoped something is addressed about the contract’s timetable.

Replansky said if the Broadband Committee wants to send written comments to him about the contract, he’d be happy to review them with Altice and possibly the Public Service Commission to see if there are any issues the town has the power to address and respond to in the context of the renewal agreement.

The attorney added he would be happy to keep the public hearing open until the town receives those comments. Finley said the committee wanted to make recommendations but had not heard back from the Town Board if it could do so.

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