Last Mile Program Guidelines for Unserved Towns

Program Overview

The MBI, Baker-Polito Administration, and state Legislature are committed to ensuring all citizens of the Commonwealth can access broadband service. The Last Mile Program is designed to support 44 unserved Western Massachusetts communities with residential broadband access projects. 

On May 10, 2016, Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito met with Senate President Rosenberg, other legislative leaders, MBI officials and local representatives from unserved municipalities in Western and Central Massachusetts to discuss a strategic pathway forward for the Last Mile program designed to accelerate progress. The Baker/Polito Administration also announced a new Last Mile project leadership team to guide the MBI’s high-speed internet accessibility efforts and appropriately disperse state capital Last Mile funds to approved projects. 

The MBI is building a flexible framework that will help all unserved towns achieve broadband access, allowing for a range of project models, including multi-town collaborations, locally-owned networks, and industry partnerships. Many technology and operational choices will be supported, as long as they meet core speed, affordability, and sustainability standards.

Eligibility

Projects covering residents in the 44 remaining unserved Western and North Central Massachusetts communities are eligible to participate in the Last Mile program.

Map of Unserved towns in MassBroadband 123 service area

Program Structure

The MBI will support broadband access projects that provide access to minimum speed requirements, demonstrate viable funding and financing plans, and achieve operating sustainability. To that end, the MBI team is engaging directly with unserved towns to assess each town’s readiness to move forward by exploring technology options, funding strategy and operational plans. A fuller explanation of the readiness process is discussed below.

To receive financial support and state approval, broadband access projects must meet minimum baseline requirements:

Minimum Project Requirements Technology and Operations
  • Project’s technology must provide access to minimum broadband speeds as defined by the FCC (25/3 Mbps)
  • Project must be capable of demonstrating long-term operating sustainability without ongoing state subsidy
  • Project must be affordable
  • Project should seek a minimum goal of 96% residential coverage in its service area
  • Endorsed by MBI professional staff
  • Financing Endorsed by DLS
  • Approved By MBI board
  • Preference for network operations to be managed by experienced professional partners when possible
  • Many technology choices: fiber, wireless, cable, and/or hybrid solutions
  • Preference for utilization of MassBroadband 123 network when appropriate

Project Models

MBI understands that there is no one-size-fits-all model for all towns. Potential project models for towns to consider include:

Model A: Expansion by Private Provider Model B: Extension of Existing Cable Infrastructure Model C: Multi-Municipal Network Model D: Independent Municipal Network Model E: Pilot Projects
  • Ownership: The private party would own the network
  • Operations: The private party would operate the network
  • Financing: Likely a combination of state and private funding with a possibility for CAF II funding
  • Technology: Fiber, Coax, or Wireless depending on provider
  • Operating Considerations: Sustainability concerns would be minimized
  • Challenges: Effectively incenting the private sector to invest with modest public investment
  • Ownership: Incumbent cable provider
  • Operations: Incumbent cable provider under existing franchise agreement
  • Financing: Likely a combination of state and private funding with a possibility for CAF II funding
  • Technology: Likely the same as existing technology provider deploys in that town
  • Operating Considerations: Minimal
  • Challenges: Effectively incenting the private sector to invest with modest public investment
  • Ownership: Municipal
  • Operations: Outsourced and based on consortium model
  • Financing: Combination of state/MBI funds and municipal borrowing; unlikely availability for CAF II funds
  • Technology: Fiber, wireless, or hybrid
  • Operating Considerations: Emphasis on attaining broadband speeds with maximum coverage at affordable prices while focusing on long term sustainability
  • Challenges: Fostering a flexible structure that will allow a town to exit with its assets
  • Ownership: Municipality
  • Operations: Outsourced
  • Financing: Combination of state/MBI funds and municipal borrowing; unlikely availability for CAF II funds
  • Technology: Fiber, Wireless or Hybrid
  • Operating Considerations: Emphasis on attaining broadband speeds with maximum coverage at affordable prices while focusing on long term sustainability
  • Challenges: Achieving a sustainable network
  • Option may be available to join a regional model in the future
  • Ownership: Variable, but likely the applying municipality
  • Operations: Variable, but preferably outsourced
  • Financing: Variable depending on project
  • Technology: Dependent on pilot program (wireless, fiber, hybrid, etc.)
  • Operating Considerations: Ensuring that the pilot model will foster long term sustainability
  • Challenges: Balancing the need to invest in new programs with a desire to be responsible stewards

Application Process

The first step in seeking a project approval is completion of a readiness request form. When the MBI receives a town’s readiness request form, staff will contact the town to discuss timing to initiate the readiness evaluation process. As towns complete the readiness evaluation process, additional towns will be contacted to initiate their process.

Download the Readiness Request Form

Readiness Evaluation Process

The MBI team will work closely with town designees to determine the project readiness status of each eligible town. The readiness process will be collaborative and is intended to result in successful, approved project proposals. Towns will partner with the MBI on an intensive readiness process, requiring best effort by all parties and resulting in a status report, which may produce a project approval recommendation.

Last Mile town readiness process chart

Achieving readiness involves a detailed process of collaboration, review, engagement, planning, and evaluation. Elements of readiness for each town may vary. A list of readiness elements is available in the Readiness Request Form.

MBI anticipates that towns are currently varied in their readiness status. Some towns may have completed all of the initial planning stages necessary to move into the execution phase of their last mile projects, while other towns will need assistance in doing so.

The MBI will be engaging in intensive readiness review with towns on a rolling basis.

Town Designee

Each unserved town has assigned a main point of contact for the Last Mile program.

Contact

MBI Contact:
Christine Hatch, Outreach Manager
hatch@masstech.org