Chappaquiddick asks: Where’s the cable guy?
EDGARTOWN, Mass. -- A gander through Chappaquiddick — “Chappy” to locals — speaks to the island’s bucolic flavor.
The sign outside a tiny market reads, “The only store on Chappy,” and it isn’t kidding. A “Lost peacocks” notice is tacked to the board outside the community center, posted by a woman whose birds wandered off. A small ferry with limited hours is the only regular link to the rest of Edgartown, with its big-aisle grocery stores, pricey restaurants and tourists crowding the narrow streets.
It’s all so idyllic, until you want to check your email, download a movie or check out the latest episode of"Episodes."Then, the reality of living on the islet of sea grass, rolling hills, sandy beaches and homes tucked into the woods begins to grate on some locals, who say they’ve waited long enough for the cable guy to show up.
At issue is a contract being negotiated between Comcast and officials representing the towns on Martha’s Vineyard. One of those towns is Edgartown, which includes Chappaquiddick, about 500 feet across the harbor. The current contract does not include service for Chappaquiddick.
“At this point, cable ... is a pretty basic service,” said Jen Rand, the town administrator for West Tisbury and the chairwoman of the Martha’s Vineyard Cable Advisory Committee, which wants Chappy on the new contract. “There aren’t many places in the United States where you can’t get it.”
Rand described negotiations as “proceeding — just slowly.”
The latest 10-year contract expired in June 2010. In the years since it was signed, locals say means of communication, of studying, of banking and of staying abreast of local and world events have evolved to the point that even a place like Chappaquiddick — where a lot of people come to get away from it all — needs to be on the grid.
“It’s more than just Chappaquiddick. It’s more than just Martha’s Vineyard. It’s about justice,” said Dennis Goldin, one of the most outspoken advocates for the island. Goldin, a doctor who rises at 4 a.m. four days a week to cross the harbor and commute to his medical practice, is one of about 200 full-time Chappaquiddick residents. Most of the roughly 500 homes here are used only during the summer or holidays.
But Goldin said that shouldn’t factor into Comcast’s decision. “Yes, there are people who vacation here, but it’s like saying Donald Trump has a home somewhere, therefore we shouldn’t provide any service for them,” Goldin said.
Comcast says it understands why residents want its services.
“Many already have them in their off-island homes,” Comcast spokeswoman Doreen Vigue said in a not-so-veiled reference to the island’s reputation as a seasonal destination that empties out at summer’s end. “We have been working for months evaluating the possibility of extending our network to the island and have presented several business options to the town.”
So far, those options have been rejected. Locals say it’s because in general, they would have residents help pay for extending the service, which they say Comcast should do as part of its deal to provide cable to Martha’s Vineyard.
“The Chappy people have always felt they didn’t get their due,” said Carrie Bryant as she checked her email one afternoon at Chappaquiddick’s community center. It’s one place on the island where a free Wi-Fi service, Chappy WISP, can be counted on to work.
Bryant said she had been coming to Chappaquiddick for holidays since 1969. That’s the same year Ted Kennedy took a tragic wrong turn off the island’s main road and drove into the bay, leaving Mary Jo Kopechne to die in his car. But Bryant says Chappy is much more than a ghoulish tourist stopover or an elitist summering spot.
Many of the homes, including the Bryants’, have been in families for decades and are more like cabins than estates, she said. Theirs has no air conditioning and a TV that gets local channels when the rabbit ears are positioned just so. Over the decades, they have come to know other residents, many of them full-timers who are now in their 80s and 90s.
“The question is, how do you keep a place what it is while adapting to modern conveniences that we all think are crucial?” Carrie Bryant said as her daughter, Cammie, who was recovering from surgery and relying on email to stay in touch with some of her doctors, tapped away on a laptop.
“It’s a time capsule, which makes it really cool,” Cammie said of Chappaquiddick, “except when it comes to the Internet.”
Not surprisingly, the quest for cable is viewed differently among Chappies of different generations. Gerry Jeffers, known around the market as “Grandpa,” couldn’t care less. He’s 79, a full-time Chappy, and shrugs off the idea that being connected via email to relatives elsewhere could help him as he ages.
“If I die, I die,” said Jeffers, who each day picks up the island’s children and drives them to the ferry landing so they can go to school.
Inside the store, Nefititi Jette, 33, was working the counter. Behind her, a dusty shelf displayed some necessities of island life: spider traps, sunscreen, bug repellent. On the counter in front of her, Jette kept her eye on a laptop, an iPad and her cellphone.
The market’s location, on the island’s only paved road, gives it solid Wi-Fi service.
“Some people say Chappies chose to be separate and chose to be on an island, so they should make do with what they’ve got. But people change — lives change,” said Jette, who attributed Chappy WISP’s launch in 2009 for the clamor for cable. “We used not to have anything. Now we have a little taste of something, and we want more.”
For now, both sides say they’re looking for a solution, but neither shows signs of caving. Rand said officials “will just keep negotiating.” Vigue said Comcast looked forward “to finalizing our talks in the near future.”
Grandpa is skeptical. “I think they’ll get it eventually,” he said of Chappy’s cable fans, “But not for a while.”
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