WESTBOROUGH – The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) has officially qualified the proposal submitted by Comcast to provide Last Mile broadband solutions to four unserved towns in Western and Central Massachusetts, including Goshen, Montgomery, Princeton, and Shutesbury. Comcast submitted the proposal to wire the four unserved towns in response to the MBI’s recent RFP for Last Mile Grants to Provide Broadband Service to Unserved Towns in Western Massachusetts.
The MBI and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have agreed to cover 100 percent of the public cost outlined in Comcast’s proposal, which means the towns would have no cost under the proposal. This approval comes after the MBI negotiated with Comcast on a ‘best and final’ proposal to serve the four towns. Under the revised terms, the public cost that would be covered by the MBI’s Last Mile program would be $3,706,850, a figure below the Institute’s initial estimates to construct full fiber networks in each of the towns.
The MBI confirmed the qualification of Comcast’s proposal in letters sent to each of the four towns last week. Individual towns retain ultimate control and final approval over whether to pursue a proposed solution with a private provider. Under the terms of the RFP, qualified private providers submitting proposals to the MBI would construct, own, operate, and maintain broadband networks in each town, but will need town approval before MBI funds are awarded for the project. A municipality that formally approves Comcast’s proposal would incur zero cost for the network build, avoiding the need for municipal bonding and the cost to manage a network long-term.
“For each of these towns, this proposal would deliver competitive broadband connections while removing the need for long-term debt, which will free up funds for economic development projects that could complement and build upon the broadband network,” stated Peter Larkin, Chair of the MBI Board and the Special Advisor to the Secretary of Housing & Economic Development for the Last Mile program. “Through this agreement, towns can engage with the provider through a traditional Cable Franchise Agreement, allowing them to avoid the day-to-day oversight of the network, removing both staff time and cost.”
Comcast’s proposal is to cover 100 percent of the premises in Princeton and 96 percent of the premises in Goshen, Montgomery, and Shutesbury. Under the proposal, Comcast will offer internet speeds consistent with their existing networks in the Commonwealth and would offer so-called ‘triple play’ service including telephone, TV, and high-speed internet.
MBI’s correspondence to the towns requests that each town review the Comcast proposal and formally respond to the MBI by Friday, April 14th, regarding the Comcast proposal. If a town’s Selectboard sends an affirmative response, the process to “light up” these towns would be initiated at an upcoming meeting of the MBI Board of Directors While MBI will allow more time for towns to respond, the established timeline would allow for the quickest approval of a project, contracting, and the start of a build out in the upcoming construction season.
On March 8th, the MBI announced the qualification of Charter’s proposal under the Private Provider RFP to cover six unserved towns: Egremont, Hancock, Monterey, New Salem, Princeton, and Shutesbury. The MBI has also recently announced plans to increase funds available to towns as direct grants for network construction and to simplify the Last Mile grant-making process, in order to create quicker and more flexible options for towns that wish to pursue municipally-owned or regional Last Mile solutions. Under the new approach, grant funds available to towns pursuing municipally-owned broadband networks will now include amounts previously allocated to cover MBI professional services as well as town direct construction costs.
At the MBI Board of Director’s recent meeting in late February, MBI executives stressed that its decision to supplement each town’s construction allocation with its professional services allocation would not adversely impact funding for any other unserved town’s project under the Last Mile program.
The MBI is continuing the initial negotiating stage with other private sector broadband providers who have responded to the Private Provider RFP. Further negotiations would occur based on the decisions of each town in the process. Once the formal review, information gathering, and negotiation processes have concluded, similar confirmation letters will be sent to municipalities covered by the Private Provider proposals, which will allow them to review and make a decision on whether to proceed. The RFP also produced a proposal from Whip City Fiber, a division of Westfield Gas & Electric, to assist towns interested in pursuing municipally-owned broadband networks. MBI’s modified direct grant program would support the strong municipal interest this proposal has generated.
The Baker-Polito Administration is committed to significantly increasing broadband access under the Last Mile Broadband project. In May 2016, the Baker-Polito Administration introduced a new framework to accelerate implementation of broadband projects in unserved or underserved communities by empowering local partners through a more flexible, community-based approach. Since May, the Baker-Polito Administration has supported efforts to expand broadband coverage to nine partially served towns, a wireless pilot-program in Middlefield, and approved grants to bring service to seven unserved towns: Alford, Otis, Warwick, Hinsdale, Lanesborough, West Stockbridge, and Mount Washington.
Brian Noyes, (508) 870-0312 X: 293, firstname.lastname@example.org