It's a tale of two connectivity perspectives in Worcester.
An industry group that represents several telecommunications companies says the broadband network is operating well — while many Worcester residents say it does not. That disagreement has gone public following reporting last week by GBH News that focused on internet challenges in Worcester.
According to a report from the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, about one-third of Worcester households lack broadband and 18% have no internet access at all.
But an eight-page letter from the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association addressed to the research bureau, and shared late last week with GBH News, “strongly disagrees with the report’s findings.”
“The report leads readers to believe that a large percentage of Worcester residents have no access to internet and most residents lack effective competition when neither claim is accurate,” reads the letter from NECTA, which advocates on behalf of Charter Spectrum and several other telecommunications companies.
According to the letter, 99% of Worcester residents have access to Charter Communications’ broadband service.
“There is a meaningful difference between having access to broadband connectivity and the actual adoption or purchase of that broadband service,” Tim Wilkerson, president of the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association, said in an email exchange with GBH News.
Wilkerson said Worcester residents without internet have chosen not to adopt the service.
The Worcester Regional Research Bureau told GBH News that its role is to provide “objective research and data,” and that it stands by its report, which relied on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. And, the Bureau said, federal officials do not make a distinction between access and adoption.
“If NECTA has information that these numbers are low, that is an issue to take up with the FCC [Federal Communications Commission], since our report is constrained by the limits of verifiable public data,” reads an e-mailed statement from the research bureau.
The bureau pointed out that Charter Spectrum’s marketing materials for Worcester currently state that it offers “internet speeds up to 200 Mbps.” But NECTA’s letter cites speeds of “400 MB up to 1 G.”
“This is far below the stated speeds in their letter and illustrates why – despite any real or perceived shortcomings – official government data is preferred to marketing materials in credible studies on this topic,” the research bureau wrote.
In recent weeks, sub-committees of Worcester's School Committee and City Council have said they want the city to consider municipally owned and operated broadband, an option presented in the WRRB study.
NECTA also sent its letter to the members of those committees, after committee members said the city should investigate the option of municipal broadband. Mayor Joseph Petty said he is happy to have information about broadband from both the research bureau and NECTA.
“I appreciate [NECTA's] concerns and trust that NECTA will be willing to provide any and all documentation that is required by the task force as we examine these issues,” he said.
School Committee member Tracy Novick, who received and read NECTA’s letter, said she is unmoved.
“[NECTA’s] letter does not change my own perspective or any recommendations or actions,” Novick wrote in an email to GBH News.
She also said she was not surprised NECTA would “attack” the Research Bureau’s study.
“Having internet publicly provided threatens what is, for Spectrum, effectively a monopoly at this time,” she wrote.
NECTA’s letter cautions that municipal broadband is “risky and costly,” citing examples of failed municipal broadband networks in Burlington, Vt., and Groton, CT.
Wilkerson said municipal broadband might also pose a conflict of interest with franchise agreements between municipalities and a telecommunications provider. "This situation would unfairly allow a municipality to act as both a regulator and a competitor,” he said.
Six Massachusetts communities have municipal broadband, according to the research bureau.
Two communities in Massachusetts with municipal broadband told GBH News they are able to offer competitive prices and speeds that meet or exceed the bandwidth offered by their commercial competitors.
While Worcester considers its options, NECTA said Charter is serving its customers well.
“For Worcester residents, these are the same cutting-edge product offerings and speeds for the same prices as Charter’s customers in Manhattan, Los Angeles, and across the country,” the letter states.