By Brenda Crowell

Staff Reporter

With more people working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reliable high-speed internet is quickly becoming more of a necessity than a luxury. However, internet service providers (ISPs) are not regulated at either the state or federal level, making it difficult to ensure that customers receive the service they’re paying for.

Upton’s Technology Committee wants to change that. The Committee came up with an open letter to state representatives asking for ISPs to be held to standards such as cable television providers are subject to, and presented that letter to the Board of Selectmen at the Board’s January 4 meeting.

“There are no standards for internet speed and reliability, probably as a result of the lobbying efforts of companies like Charter, Comcast, and Verizon,” said Technology Committee Chair Steve Rakitin. “These companies are essentially operating a monopoly in many communities, and as a result, they have no motivation to improve service and meet any kind of reasonable standards. This is a very complicated issue as state and federal laws do not regulate internet service providers but only cable TV providers, even though the same company is often providing both services.”

What this means for internet users is that if your internet provider fails to deliver the service you’re paying for, there’s almost nothing you can do besides report it to your provider, who’s under no legal obligation to do anything to correct the issue.

Rakitin noted that four companies – Charter, Comcast, Verizon, and RCN – serve 99 percent of the communities in Massachusetts. These four providers don’t infringe on each other’s territories; if an area is served by Charter, Comcast will not provide service to that area.

“Upton has asked Verizon to install its FioS service in town many times, and Verizon has refused,” Rakitin said. “These four companies long ago decided what towns they want to serve. Towns do not choose service providers; rather, service providers choose towns.”

The licenses towns grant to service providers cover only cable television service, not internet. Although Upton’s license with Charter expired in April 2021, it is legal under both state and federal law for companies to continue to provide cable TV service even with an expired license.

“The process of renewing a provider’s license is painful,” said Rakitin. “It requires convening a public hearing and allowing residents to speak only about cable TV service. At these public hearings, internet issues are not discussed because the license only applies to cable TV service.”

With streaming services becoming more popular, the number of Charter cable subscribers statewide has dropped from 219,535 in 2000 to 187,833 in 2020, per the state database.

After presenting the proposed letter for state representatives to the Board of Selectmen, the town of Upton created a survey for residents to get their input on the issue. According to Rakitin, 3,072 forms were mailed out with the annual town census. The survey could also be completed online. As of January 27, Rakitin said the town had received about 520 paper responses and 415 online submissions for a response rate of more than 30 percent.

The Board of Selectmen has requested that the Town Manager’s office reach out to state representatives as the next step in the process. Upton Town Manager Derek Brindisi said that he was now working to advance that during his remaining time in Upton.

“Internet service is not currently regulated, and the pandemic has illustrated just how important fast, reliable, and affordable internet is,” Rakitin said. “We all need internet access nearly as much as we need electricity.”Technology Committee calls
for Regulation of ISPs