MBI and Baker-Polito Administration Approve Proposal by Charter Communications to Close Last Mile Coverage Gaps in Six Towns
MBI Confirms Official Qualification and Offers ‘No Cost’ Option for Broadband Expansion in Each Town
Proposed Timeline for Review & Approval by Towns Aims to Expedite Construction of ‘Last Mile’ Networks which Could Deliver Service to 25 Percent of Remaining Unserved Citizens
Rolling Review of Remaining RFP Responses Ongoing
WESTBOROUGH - The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) has officially qualified the proposal recently submitted by Charter Communications, to provide Last Mile broadband solutions to the towns of Egremont, Hancock, Monterey, New Salem, Princeton, and Shutesbury. Charter proposed wiring the six 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 has agreed, following negotiations with Charter to determine the firm’s best and final offer, to cover 100 percent of the public cost outlined in Charter’s proposal.
Under this framework, if leaders in the unserved towns formally approve the Charter proposal, the town would incur zero cost for the network build, avoiding the need for municipal bonding. In addition, under the terms of the RFP, Charter has proposed to construct, own, operate and maintain broadband networks in each town. Under the proposal, Charter 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.
The MBI has confirmed Charter’s qualifications under the Last Mile RFP in a letter to the six unserved towns Charter proposed serving. Individual towns retain ultimate control and final approval over whether to pursue a proposed solution with a private provider.
“Charter’s proposal offers these unserved towns the option of closing broadband connectivity gaps quickly and in a cost-effective way,” 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 letter, our goal is to ensure that the Selectboards in each of the six towns have reviewed the proposal in full, formally discuss it with their citizens, and come back to the MBI with their decision.”
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.
MBI’s correspondence to the towns requests that each town review the Charter proposal and formally respond to the MBI by Friday, March 24th, regarding the Charter proposal. If a town’s Selectboard sends an affirmative response, the process to “light up” these towns would be initiated at the upcoming meeting of the MBI Board of Directors on Tuesday, March 28th. 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.
“For each town, this proposal has numerous benefits, including zero cost to the town, expedited timeline for construction, and broadband connections that are competitive with connected towns throughout Massachusetts,” stated Tim Connelly, Executive Director/CEO of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the parent organization of the MBI. “If each of the six towns opts-in, that would cover roughly 25 percent of the remaining citizens in the unserved towns, which would mark significant progress toward our goal of closing the digital divide in the Commonwealth. We are pleased to offer these six towns the option of a zero-cost Last Mile solution that will put them directly into the construction pipeline.”
At the MBI Board of Director’s recent meeting in late February, MBI leaders stressed that any additional funds necessary to cover costs above the allocation for these six towns would be covered by the Commonwealth and would not adversely impact funding for any other unserved town’s project under the Last Mile program.
In addition, the MBI is in an initial negotiating stage with other private sector broadband providers regarding their responses 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, P: 508-870-0312 x 293, noyes (at) masstech.org