New SELCO proposal would end seniors” discounts
By K.B. Sherman, Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – A 10-year franchise agreement license proposal for Shrewsbury Electric and Cable Operations (SELCO), including a controversial measure that would reduce discounts for seniors, was discussed at the Jan. 22 Board of Selectmen's meeting.
SELCO officials noted that cable subscriber numbers were largely unchanged since 2003, with 11,594 basic and 10,580 extended in 2003, versus 11,526 basic and 10,594 extended in January 2013. However, other metrics have increased dramatically. Between 2003 and 2013, digital customers have increased from 2,127 to 7,643; HD-71 customers from 71 to 5,630; DVR-21 from 21 to 3,911; and Internet customers from 3,754 to 11,019.
Future plans include increased bandwidth with programming competitive to other cable providers. Capital expenses for the next 10 years will include replacing aging gear and initiatives including Fiber to Home pilot project; greater bandwidth; TV Everywhere, WiFi Hotspots to subscribers.
Perhaps the most controversial plan is to reduce and then eliminate discounts for senior citizens over the next 10 years. These discounts would be reduced every year. Officials estimated that this would increase SELCO revenue $205,000 a year by 2023. In summary, the officials said that total financial support to the town would increase from $1.17 million in 2012 to $1.20 million in 2013, an estimated 11 percent increase.
The issue of highly increased use of Internet services was also discussed, with free service to town schools being blamed as the culprit. A pilot program that issued iPads to all students and faculty at the Sherwood Middle School has raised town usage from 50 megabytes per second (MPS) to 170 MPS, with peak usage hitting 400 MPS over the town's public service infrastructure.
Several residents weighed in on the proposal. John Lukach, Bunker Hill Road, said he felt SELCO has historically done well by and for Shrewsbury. However, he was unhappy with the elimination of senior discounts without what he felt was adequate notice given for such a proposal. He stated that SELCO was a good provider when compared to other utilities, but thought that its financials should be made public. He said that since its retirees” benefits were folded into the town's plan, there needs to be a better accounting of its retiree financial liability and that without such a step, money transfers from the town to SELCO should be questioned. And 10-year financial estimates by SELCO were too far into the future to be meaningful, he added.
Selectmen Chair Maurice DePalo noted that there were no constraints upon any other operator entering Shrewsbury to compete, but none had thus far.
Erica Bodden, Orchard Road, praised SELCO as being civic-minded and considerate. Concerned about a possible reduction in SELCO employees, she urged that staff not be cut.
DePalo asked the SELCO representatives if the new agreement and higher rates were necessary for infrastructure improvements. The officials said they were; without them, services would deteriorate.
The hearing will remain open until February to allow for further input from residents.
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