Proposed Task Force on

The Town's Communications Infrastructure

Two parallel and related developments occasion this task force. For one: Beginning from fiber optic investments already in the ground for other reasons, the Light Plant may be able to provide communications infrastructure and/or services that will not otherwise be available to Concord's citizens. Because of unprecedented changes in technology over the 15 years since cable TV arrived, the services to be considered are television, delivered today on cable; telephony; and more. For the other: At the same time, Cablevision's license expires in September 2000, and mandated time schedules necessitate initiating the review process now.

With both the Cable TV Committee and Municipal Light Plant Board responsible for aspects of the implicit, related questions, a jointly organized task force on the Town's communications infrastructure would be at work for roughly the next three years. Its task, simply put, is to assess the options for communications infrastructure available to the Town. Once assessment begins to be reasonably well in hand, the assembled task force resource also assists with dialog across town and with conclusions. In a second phase of the work, the task force is available for implementation, including negotiations and other arrangements as appropriate.

The task begins with identifying the options. Analytically, the options divide into two general halves. On one side is renewal/licensing or no, in some form, with Cablevision or others. On the other are the various levels of infrastructure and services the town might itself provide. In practice, combinations between these two are relevant.

Options on the first side include, at the least, straight renewal on some terms; inviting in a competitive provider such as RCN or perhaps Media One; or perhaps no license at all. On the second side, full infrastructure and services are at one end with infrastructure alone at the other, and various levels intermediate; timetable and target service areas can add variety to these options.

After a first iteration on the options is put in hand, assessment begins. Technical, economic, financial, management and regulatory facets must be understood for each option, including related experience in other towns and cities. The process entails fact-finding, analysis, consultation and recommendations. As with the options, the process is iterative and it is also sequenced.

The Town Manager and the Board of Selectmen must remain informed of the task force's work from the beginning. A key step will be progressively broadening the dialog to the town as a whole. While adequate initial work by the task force will be necessary to inform a dialog, the opportunity for broad discussion will be fundamental. Ultimately, the matter will be carried to Town Meeting.

Task force membership begins with some members from both the Light Plant Board and the Cable TV Committee. For a total of seven members, the balance of the membership is recruited from across the town to provide necessary expertises. In addition to the regular membership, others may participate occasionally for special purposes, perhaps for instance to liaise with a prospective service partner.

The work of the task force will proceed in parallel with the ongoing responsibilities of its two parent groups, the Cable TV Committee and the Light Plant Board. The amount of work to be done for the task force is such that help will likely be needed from both those groups, from time to time. In particular, significant work will focus on the options that the town itself might provide. In the second phase of work a year or two off, as directed by the Board of Selectmen with the Town Manager, assessment moves to implementation. There will be a number of parties in town who need to participate in the related negotiations and arrangements; this likely will include the task force membership and its two parent groups.

The task force may on occasion require some outside professional input; legal counsel and specialized research are two possibilities. At the outset the budget for any such input is manageable from existing sources. After some initial work to judge budget needs, the task force will prepare an overall budget and projected sources. The amount in any event is not likely to be greater than the low tens of thousands.