Thursday, June 30, 2016

Massachusetts Broadband Institute Announces Grant to Support Construction of Mount Washington’s ‘Last Mile’ Broadband Network

$230,000 Grant Will Support Construction of a Residential Fiber to the Home Network

BOSTON – The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has approved a grant to the Town of Mount Washington to support the construction of a ‘Fiber to the Home’ network that will deliver broadband access to the town’s residents. The grant of $230,000 from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute at MassTech (“MBI”) will help construct a fiber-optic network that will pass 96% of residences in the town. Of the households in Mount Washington, over 60% have agreed to take service on the proposed network, a fact the Town confirmed through a program which gathered a signed agreement from each subscriber committing to three years of data and phone service along with a $300 deposit.  

The grant is the second award made by the Commonwealth since the Baker-Polito Administration announced a new framework for implementing Last Mile Broadband projects in unserved communities in early 2016. On June 8th, the MBI announced a grant to the Town of Middlefield to support a wireless pilot project to help the town address its broadband gap.

“On behalf of the Select Board and the citizens of the Town of Mount Washington, I would like to thank the team at the Massachusetts Broadband Institute for this substantial grant towards the construction of our last mile Fiber to the Home network,” said Jim Lovejoy, Select Board Chair for Mount Washington. “This grant speaks well of the commitment by the Baker-Polito Administration and the new leadership at MBI to develop high-speed internet access in the unserved communities of Western Massachusetts. This initiative is critical to the economic development of our region. I also need to thank our Western Massachusetts legislative delegation, especially Senator Ben Downing and Representative Smitty Pignatelli, for their efforts over many years, without which the MBI and the opportunity we have to build this state-of-the art municipal infrastructure would not exist.”

Anticipated capital expenditures for the construction of the Town’s network are expected to be approximately $700,000. Mount Washington had previously passed a town warrant authorizing it to transfer $250,000 from its Stabilization Fund and to borrow $450,000 for up to 20 years through the Commonwealth’s ‘State House Notes’ program to cover the project’s costs. The town has also collected a total of $29,950 from the pre-subscription campaign. 

“As one of the Commonwealth’s smallest communities, we applaud the officials and citizens of Mount Washington for the years of hard work which resulted in a well-crafted plan, one which will bring a municipally-owned fiber-optic network to their community,” 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. “This is the fourth Last Mile project and the second municipal ‘Fiber to the Home’ network the MBI has supported to date. We’re pleased by this progress and are hopeful that through our more aggressive, face-to-face work with unserved communities, we can move forward additional sustainable projects that will close the digital divide for residents and businesses in these communities.” 

The MBI, in addition to the new $230,000 grant, also provided Mount Washington with a $5,000 Broadband Planning Assistance Grant in 2015. Mount Washington’s project will also utilize the MBI-constructed MassBroadband 123 ‘middle mile’ network, which was completed in early 2014. That project created a fiber-optic backbone in 120-plus communities in Western and North Central Massachusetts, with the goal of increasing broadband access at public facilities. MassBroadband 123 also created a foundation for residential Last Mile expansion projects such as Mount Washington’s.

Mount Washington has chosen to design, construct, and operate their municipal ‘Fiber to the Home’ project, foregoing professional services offered by the MBI. In January 2016, the Town released a Request for Proposal for the construction of the network, selecting NextGen Telecom Services Group to undertake the work. Under the terms of that agreement, the town will own the network infrastructure and will eventually issue a separate Request for Proposal to procure a network operator and internet service provider. 

Next steps for the project include the kick off of ‘make-ready’ work, including applications and surveys of telephone poles in the community, as well as other pre-construction work. That will be followed by a network construction period, with a targeted completion date in mid- to late-2017. Once completed, the network will provide voice and high-speed data services to customers, with an opportunity to add video services in the future.

The Town will manage and own the network without the use of a Municipal Light Plant, or MLP, a structure common for the management of municipal-owned telecommunications networks in the Commonwealth. Instead of creating a separate administrative body to oversee management of the network, current town officials will take on additional management and oversight responsibilities. The Town does not expect any additional incremental costs for employees taking on these responsibilities. 

“This grant is another example of the renewed energy at MBI to deliver a viable last-mile broadband solution to the unserved communities of Western Massachusetts,” said Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D – Pittsfield). “It is the result of the efforts of determined and dedicated citizens to establish and deliver their own 21st-century network to their community.”

“I am ecstatic and proud that Mount Washington, the third smallest town in our Commonwealth, has taken tremendous leadership and is moving forward with building their own fiber network,” said Representative Smitty Pignatelli (D – Lenox). “Mount Washington’s success shows that it is possible, with support from the MBI, for even our smallest communities to have access to quality, high-speed internet. I look forward to seeing all of the small towns in Western MA light up like Mount Washington.”