Despite Some Interruption, Council Committee Dives Into Internet Issues

The City is entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) this week with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) to take a “deep dive” into the Internet and connectivity issues that have plagued subscribers off all kinds through the last year.

City Communications Director Deanna Devaney told the Council Government Operations Committee on Thursday, Jan. 28, that with the numerous complaints about Internet connectivity in Everett – from students, businesses and residents working from home.

“The City of Everett has signed and MOU with the MAPC,” Devaney told the Committee, which was hosting representatives from ComCast. “As part of that MOU, it will create a digital access equity plan. They will be diving into Everett’s data numbers in partnership with Everett Public Schools, Councilor Stephanie Martins and Councilor Michael McLaughlin. The City will be undertaking this very deep dive shortly.”

Devaney said they are looking to get in contact with faith-based organizations (many of whom are relying on Internet service for worship), the Chamber of Commerce and community based organizations as partners.

She said they would be asking ComCast and other providers for information and she hoped they would work in tandem.

Tim Kelly, of ComCast, said they would be more than happy to help and have done so in Essex County already this past year.

That was only the tip of the iceberg at the meeting, which featured Councilor Jimmy Tri Le losing his patience with the ComCast representatives and causing such a scene that the online meeting had to be recessed for five minutes.

The long and short of his frustration came in that the ComCast officials seemed not to be getting to the heart of the issue, which was why Everett’s Internet is so slow for so many people.

“There’s been a lot of technical jargon being said,” he said in his first complaint. “There is a lot of arcane language being spoken…I have no problem with my Internet because I guess we pay the premium. Is that the problem? Is the way the Internet is slow for people because people pay the rates?”

After another 20 minutes of presentation, Le burst in again.

“Just answer the question,” he said, chiding the representatives for being “verbose.”

“I’m going to have to stop this,” said Councilor McLaughlin. “This is totally inappropriate.”

“Not it’s not; it’s a question,” retorted Le. “Why is it slow? Just answer the question.”

That resulted in a verbal scuffle and, finally, Councilor Martins called for a recess.

After the recess, Le and others apologized for the outburst, but the issue remained that the question hadn’t been answered.

ComCast Network Director Jim Hevner said studies showing slower download speeds for different communities don’t reflect a different Internet infrastructure. He said all communities are built out the same.

“It’s a sort of standard that if you’re in Everett, Wilmington, or Weston – any community in Massachusetts, New Hampshire or Maine – you have 1.2 gigabyte speeds,” he said. “You have the same as everyone else.”

Kelly said Everett operates out of a hug – or head house – in Malden, and they are in a good space in terms of their infrastructure and available bandwidth for ComCast. In fact, for the region, Kelly said their Core Network has only had about 50 percent usage during the pandemic, and the Access Network has only reached as high as 85 percent usage. So, the system is not getting maxed out in Everett or the region, unlike in Europe where they ran out of bandwidth.

“We’ve never exceeded our capacity,” he said.

“Everett is actually in a great space (with ComCast) when it comes to network space and reliability,” he said. “It’s being monitored. It’s being monitored for many performance indicators to reflect customer experience.”

Hevner said they do a lot of testing throughout the network in Everett and the region to make sure speeds are up to par.

Kelly and ComCast’s Angela Holm both said many times the problems could be in the network, but more than likely the problems exist in the home. It could be the gateway (or modem), the location of the gateway, or even the materials used in the house.

Holm said it also could be what tier one is subscribed to. With a lower tier, speeds are not as high or fast as the higher tiers, which could explain in actuality why speeds were much higher in wealthier communities than they were in Everett in last year’s MAPC Digital Divide study.

Holm said it also depends on how many people in the house at the time, and what activities they are doing online.

“There is a possibility it could be our network,” said Kelly. “We’ve had squirrels chew through cables, and we’ve seen cables hit by gunshots. We’ve seen it all. We’re not suggesting our hands are clean. It could be one of our nodes.”

All agreed to work together through Martins’ Committee, and through the upcoming City/MAPC study to sniff out the problems and fix them. Councilor Martins said she has been forwarding addresses from those complaining to ComCast or the other providers to figure out what the issues are. ComCast said they have already been working off that list, and that is also a method they used recently in Winthrop to fix widespread issues – some that were in the network and many issues that were in the home.

In related news, ComCast is embarking on a new usage-based billing system, where they put caps on data loads and penalize those that go over the cap on their plan. That system is not going into effect until the end of June, said Kelly, with new charges first showing on the August bill.

Martins suggested that the representatives return to the Committee in April for an update on connectivity and the City/MAPC study.

When Is State Money Really Money for Everett?

Councilor Michael McLaughlin called an information hearing with the Committee meeting last Thursday, Jan. 28, with members of the state delegation, including State Rep. Joe McGonagle and State Sen. Sal DiDomenico.

Unfortunately, McGonagle wasn’t able to attend, and didn’t notify the Committee as to his absence. McLaughlin took the matter to task with a pretty pointed bashing of his former state rep opponent for not appearing.

“I am disappointed,” he said. “It’s great to get soundbites and it’s great to get headlines, but when it comes to the nitty gritty of what’s really coming to Everett from the state, I wanted to hear these things. “You have $13 million that was thrown around all last year that was supposedly secured for the City of Everett, yet I’d like to know if that $13 million hit our City coffers or if it hit the Eliot Family Resource Center and other areas. I guess we won’t know that…He was invited and just chose not to show up tonight, which isn’t surprising.”

DiDomenico did show up and offered a cadre of state earmarks and budget items that he has secured through mostly direct appropriations. That means he advocated for the money and it was put in the State Budget, passed and then delivered to Everett.

The other part of the equation are Bond Bills, he said, which are a little more confusing. Bond Authorization Bills – which have been touted in Everett over the years, particularly Transportation Bond Bills – are only an initial step, he said.

“The direct appropriation you get right away,” he said. “The bond bill appropriation you have to work it. You have to work on the governor and let him know how important this is to the community. You have to fight for those dollars because all 200 of us in the State Legislature will be fighting for those funds. You do have to get it into the bond bill first. It if doesn’t get in first, it doesn’t happen. We do have to work to get everything in the bond bill, but we have to work the governor to get the spending authorized.”

DiDomenico said the delegation from Everett, and Mayor Carlo DeMaria, are very vocal in advocating needs to the governor. However, he said just getting something into the bond bill doesn’t equate to the successful securing of money to be delivered to Everett. “You have to push it,” he said. “You can’t sit back and wait for it to happen.”

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