Town Services

The State of Cable TV and Broadband in Sudbury

Cable Television Committee (posted: Monday, August 11, 2008) | Email this story

Cable High Speed Internet Access

[This document will be periodically updated as conditions change]

 

One role of the Sudbury Cable Committee is to act as a clearinghouse of information on high-speed Internet access (also known as high-speed data, or HSD) in the town. The current status of High-Speed Internet Access, Internet Telephone, Digital Cable, and DSL follows:
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CURRENT NEWS (8/11/08) : On 2/13/07, the Selectmen awarded a CATV (cable television) franchise to Verizon (View License). Verizon's CATV offering is part of their fiber-to-the-home offering (they call it FiOS), which provides each home with a single very high speed communication pipe for CATV, phone, and Internet. All residents with aerial utilities can get the FiOS CATV service. Verizon expects to service most homes with underground utilities by the end of 2008. Call the Verizon business office to see if it's available to you.

Sudbury's Public/Governmental Access Channel (COMCAST Channel 8) is available on FiOS 31. The LSRHS Education Channel (COMCAST channel 9) is available on FiOS 32.

Beginning in September, Sudbury Channel 8 will be managed by a new non-profit corporation led by Sudbury residents. Check out sudburytv.org for details.

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High-speed Internet, Cable Modems, DSL:  Sudbury has three providers for high-speed Internet.  Verizon FiOS is available to many residents (call the Verizon business office at 1-888-656-4454 or got to their website at http://fios.verizon.com to see if it's available to you), and virtually all Sudbury residents can obtain service from COMCAST (1-800-COMCAST), or Earthlink (1-800-Earthlink).  Earthlink uses COMCAST's infrastructure (see below).  Please contact the Cable Committee (contact info at the end of this document) if you have trouble getting service.

Both COMCAST's HFC (Hybrid-Fiber-Coax), and Verizon's FTTP (Fiber-to-the-Premises) "FiOS" networks offer very-high speed (5-15Mb/s downstream) bandwidth, hundreds of times faster than dial-up.  FiOS shares a fiber across several homes, whereas COMCAST has divided Sudbury into 20 neighborhoods or “nodes” of approximately 250 homes, each served by a fiber.  In both cases, there should be plenty of bandwidth available, and most residents are quite happy with their service, even at peak times.  If you experience problems, don't hesitate to contact your provider.

Although their prices and packages vary, COMCAST's current pricing structure provides an Internet package that includes the lowest tier of cable service for essentially the same price as Internet access alone.  As discussed below, Internet customers should consider this package as it gives them access to Sudbury's Access channel.

EarthLink uses COMCAST's cable and billing infrastructures, but provides an Internet-only package for about the same discounted price that COMCAST charges its cable subscribers. You can check out EarthLink's offerings at their web site http://www.earthlink.net. Or call them at 1-800-EARTHLINK. (Note: when I recently tried their website it said service wasn't available to me, but when I called they said it was).

Verizon also offers DSL service in much of Sudbury. Though less expensive, DSL can be a bit less reliable, and typically has lower throughput rates (though they’re quite adequate for the average user). Most Sudbury residents are served from the central office near the intersection of Route 20 and Concord Road. The quality of your service may vary with your distance from this location.

Nevertheless, all cable non-subscribers should consider subscribing to COMCAST’s, or Verizon's, lowest tier of cable service for over-the-air channels. It's essentially free for COMCAST Internet customers, and ~$14/month for non-Internet customers. This tier provides more over-the-air channels than one can receive either from an antenna or from a satellite service. Most important, (and this is why we recommend it) this service provides access to both the LSRHS channel (COMCAST Channel 9, FiOS 32), and the Sudbury Community Access channel COMCAST Channel 8, FiOS 31). The latter televises civic meetings (including Selectmen’s and other town committee meetings, Town Meeting, LWV, Chamber of Commerce, etc.), the annual HopeSudbury Telethon, and L/S sports. In recent years, COMCAST has invested well-over $100,000 in new equipment for Sudbury Community Access, and the quality of town programming now far exceeds what was broadcast even a few years ago.

The Cable Committee strongly, strongly, strongly recommends that you connect to the Internet through a router that is running firewall software, and run firewall software on your PC. Windows XP (SP2) has a built-in firewall, as does VISTA.  Routers can be purchased from many places, including Radio Shack in Sudbury. 

Internet Telephone, VoIP:  COMCAST, Verizon, and Earthlink all offer telephone service.  All three providers offer Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service, and COMCAST may still offer their older, proprietary service.  The VoIP service may be better than you can get from a third-party provider like Vonage because calls made via COMCAST or Verizon travel on their own network for most of the distance, rather than over the public internet.  VoIP is a new technology, and so there is the occasional problem, but people generally seem happy with the service.  Again, this is a totally unregulated service over which the town has no control.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Before you replace your conventional telephone service (i.e, landline) with COMCAST digital telephone, Verizon FiOS, or even your cell-phone, the Cable Committee recommends you give some thought to two issues:

a) In a power outage, battery-backup for Internet phone service lasts only several hours.  If you expect power outages that run into days, you may need an alternate method of telephone service.  Cell-phones are a reasonable choice, but in a wide-spread outage the cell-towers could lose power as well (or be flooded with calls).

b) The reliability of non-landline 911 service varies by provider and town.  There are still well-documented, industry-wide problems with routing 911 calls through cellular or VoIP networks.  Sometimes these calls reach the police or fire department through non-emergency lines, or sometimes they don't reach the right destination at all.

One solution is to keep one landline with minimal service for emergencies.  Note that when Verizon installs their FiOS service, they usually remove all your landlines. 

Cable TV, Digital Cable: Digital cable is a higher tier of service that offers more than 100 additional channels in addition to Extended Basic, as well as digital music. These extra channels are conveyed all the way to your set-top box in digital form, so the signal quality is usually superb.

Note that even with the digital service, all the channels in the Basic and Extended Basic tiers (i.e., all channels below channel 100) are transmitted in analog format. Although, due to the system upgrades made in 2000, the quality of these channels is very high as well.

COMCAST also offers cable boxes with built in Digital Video Recorders (DVRs). These TiVo-like devices can be rented for about $10 more than a digital cable box, and can record HDTV on two channels at once, even while you're watching a previously-recorded program.

Alternately, as noted above COMCAST also offers a tier of cable service consisting of only over-the-air channels. It's essentially free for COMCAST Internet customers, and ~$14/month by itself.  COMCAST doesn't promote this low-cost service, but they must provide it if you ask for it. 

COMCAST is required to provide cable service to all homes on all public roads, as well as to all private roads where they previously installed cable, or have access to do so. Homes on roads that are currently private and do not have access to cable should contact the general contractor for their development and request that he contact COMCAST, (and Verizon), to have cable installed, or wait until they are accepted as a public road (COMCAST is required to provide cable service to a newly-accepted public road in the year that the road is accepted as public). In addition, service may not yet be available to some businesses on Route 20 (Boston Post Road). Verizon is also required to provide service to all homes by 2012.

Important Note: If you take only Basic or Extended Basic cable from COMCAST, with no premium channels (i.e., if you pay less than ~$45/month exclusive of boxes and additional TVs), and you have a cable-ready TV, you no longer need a cable box. You can connect the cable directly to your TV, and return your box to COMCAST to reduce your monthly fee. (However, see the next paragraph).

The well-publicized "digital changeover" coming in early 2009 affects only people who receive their TV over the air (via antennas and rabbit ears), and does NOT affect cable or satellite subscribers. However, (and this is what makes it confusing), the cable companies are also, for different reasons, conducting their own "changeover" during the same period, eliminating the option of connecting their cable directly to your set. In order to use the space on their cables more efficiently, the cable companies are "compressing" more of their channels, requiring a set-top box to decode even the lowest level of service. Verizon FiOS subscribers MUST use a set-top box regardless of their service level. COMCAST still provides its two lowest tiers encoded like a regular TV signal, so that you can connect their cable directly to your cable-ready TV. However, they have been slowly removing channels from these tiers to make room for more channels. As of August 2008, they are providing converter boxes free-of-charge for a year to people affected by these changes.

Other notes:  COMCAST's method for detecting widespread cable modem service outages requires affected residents to request service calls. When your cable modem goes down, and COMCAST cannot immediately remedy the problem, they will ask you to schedule a service call, even if it's obvious that the problem is not local to your home. Their systems track the number and locality of service call requests, and uses the data to track widespread outages. When the outage is fixed, COMCAST reps are supposed to call you to check whether your service has been restored. If you don't receive a call, you should call to cancel.

As part of their franchise agreement, COMCAST provides a fiber-optic institutional data and video network connecting sixteen of our Town and School buildings. This new network is reducing communication costs for the schools and the town while increasing bandwidth and connectivity. COMCAST also provides supplementary free Internet access to our schools and Library.

Dial-up: One suggestion to those who only get rates in the 20s (Kb/s): Some people have improved their dial-up rates by purchasing a really good modem (e.g., USR 56K external). It might be worth a try, just make sure you have return privileges in case it doesn’t help. Also, find out if your ISP has upgraded their central office modems to V.92. If they have, and you upgrade as well, you may see some improvement. Many V.90 modems can be upgraded with firmware downloaded from the Internet. Check your manufacturer’s website.

To contact the Sudbury Cable Committee about any of the above, or about any problems you may be having with COMCAST, please send to cablecommittee@sudbury.ma.us.

The Sudbury Cable Committee is:

Jeff Winston (Chairman),
Marty Greenstein,
Ted Fedynyshyn,
Mark Thompson (Ex-Officio, for the town)

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