Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Commonwealth, Mass. Broadband Institute Announce Grant for Middlefield Wireless Pilot Project

First Award Made Under State’s New Flexible, Community-Based Approach to Advance Broadband Expansion in Underserved Communities

BOSTON – The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has approved a new grant to the Town of Middlefield to aid in the launch of a wireless pilot project designed to help the town address its broadband Internet gap. The grant of $129,082 from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute will fund costs associated with the town’s preferred solution for broadband under the pilot program.

The announcement represents the first award made by the Commonwealth after the Baker-Polito Administration’s May 10th meeting with municipal broadband leaders from across Western Massachusetts, which launched the administration’s new framework for evaluating and advancing Last Mile Broadband projects in unserved communities.

“We recognize that one broadband solution doesn’t fit all and the approval of Middlefield’s wireless pilot, an effort the town put together and proposed to the state, is evidence that Last Mile solutions will come in many different forms,” stated Peter Larkin, Board Chair of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute and Special Advisor to the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development for the Last Mile project. “The Middlefield pilot project is a positive first step and one we believe could close the broadband gap in that town. We’re pleased with this first step and are actively working with other communities to identify their preferred path forward.”

Middlefield has selected Interisle Consulting Group for design and engineering, and the Middlefield Municipal Light Plant (“MLP”) will take on an administrative role for the network. The award will be deducted from the estimated construction allocation approved by the MBI Board in January 2015. If the pilot project is successful and a separate proposal for the town-wide network is approved, Middlefield will be eligible to receive the remainder of its construction allocation to complete the full wireless network construction.

“We deeply appreciate the recent positive and cooperative response by the Governor’s office and the MBI to bring high speed internet to our underserved communities,” said Alan Vint, Chairman of Middlefield’s Selectboard. “The funding of our wireless broadband pilot program demonstrates the administration’s willingness to partner with small towns to solve our particular issues.”

The Middlefield pilot, which is projected to kick off at the end of June and last approximately four months, will serve approximately 32 customers in the town and will utilize a mix of fixed wireless technologies, including 2.4 GHz; 5 GHz; and UHF, or TV White Space (TVWS), spectrums. The Town plans to test approximately ten customers in each of these spectrums through the pilot. The pilot will allow Middlefield to test technologies from numerous vendors to determine which products offer the best performance across diverse terrain and ground cover.  The best performing wireless technologies will later be used if a town-wide network is deployed.

“The Middlefield pilot represents an opportunity to test beta-stage TV White Space technology, which can potentially overcome the traditional barriers to wireless in hilly, rural communities,” said Dave Charbonneau, Technical Director for the Massachusetts Broadband Institute at MassTech. “TV White Space has been used by other rural communities across the world to deliver high-speed broadband to residents. The technology that will be deployed and tested in Middlefield are cutting edge products designed for this type of terrain. It’s an exciting opportunity for the town and other unserved towns to see a real-world demonstration and learn from those results.”

"It is encouraging to see new energy in the Commonwealth's Last Mile Broadband effort," said Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D - Pittsfield). "Middlefield's pilot will be a locally-driven test of an innovative broadband solution".

"I am very pleased that the Massachusetts Broadband Institute has approved funding for the Town of Middlefield's wireless broadband pilot program,” said Rep. Stephen Kulik (D – Worthington). “This grant, in the amount of $129,082, represents a great collaborative effort between the Commonwealth and one of our smallest and most rural Hilltown communities. It will be great to finally have a practical and meaningful study of wireless technology that may prove to be an affordable way to bring much needed broadband service to some of our unserved towns who wish to pursue that option."