WESTBOROUGH – The Massachusetts Broadband Institute at MassTech (MBI) and Comcast have reached an agreement that will extend broadband access in nine municipalities in Western and North Central Massachusetts, a project which is estimated to deliver broadband connectivity to 1,089 new residences and businesses, and will bring the overall coverage level in each town to 96% or above. The grant will provide up to $4 million in state funds to reimburse partial project costs for Comcast, which has existing networks in each of the towns, to construct broadband internet extensions to additional homes and businesses.
“This agreement further demonstrates our administration’s commitment to tackling broadband connectivity challenges for unserved residents and businesses,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “This public-private partnership will deliver sustainable, reliable, and cost-effective broadband connectivity to nine rural communities that previously faced significant coverage gaps, allowing nearly 1,100 households and businesses to participate more fully in the digital economy.”
“Our results-oriented approach to bridging broadband access gaps is connecting thousands of rural residents to the modern internet,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “We will continue to employ a dynamic, flexible approach to the Last Mile project, and seek solutions that meet the unique needs of communities and residents unserved by broadband access.”
The construction of the broadband extensions in Buckland, Conway, Chester, Hardwick, Huntington, Montague, Northfield, Pelham, and Shelburne is estimated to be completed within two years from the start of the project. The public-private partnership will extend high-speed internet service to unserved residents at speeds that meet or exceed the FCC’s definition of broadband service, through a hybrid fiber/coaxial-cable network.
“Comcast has a longstanding presence in Western Massachusetts and has regularly sought opportunities to bring our state-of-the art, fiber-rich network to more homes and businesses in Western Massachusetts”, said Michael Parker, Regional Senior Vice President for Comcast’s Western New England Region, which includes Western Massachusetts. “We look forward to our partnership with Governor Baker, Lt. Governor Polito and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to bring our Xfinity broadband service to additional consumers in Western Massachusetts. This will create new and convenient ways for residents and businesses to access the communications tools, educational resources, and content they need. In addition, we will offer Internet Essentials, Comcast’s nationally-acclaimed low-cost broadband adoption program, which has helped close the digital divide for thousands of families in New England.”
New customers in each town will pay the same monthly rates as their neighbors in already-served sections of these communities, and will have access to the same comprehensive suite of video, broadband, voice services, and home security and automation options. Construction of the expansion will be fully covered by the Commonwealth and Comcast.
“This is a fair agreement for the Commonwealth and its residents, as this expansion will bring broadband connectivity to nearly 1,100 homes and businesses,” said 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 benefits will be seen through the enhanced connectivity’s impact on small businesses, education, and people’s everyday lives for years to come.”
“While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the many financial, legal, technical, and operational challenges facing Last Mile communities, it is encouraging that our new, flexible approach to the Last Mile project is stimulating healthy market interest,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash. “We will continue to pursue partnerships that enable market-based solutions to the Last Mile’s complex market gaps.”
To establish the Broadband Extensions Program, the MBI worked closely with the Western Massachusetts legislative delegation to address broadband gaps in communities with only partial broadband service. The Legislature enacted two pieces of legislation: Chapter 198 of the Acts of 2014 which provided the MBI with the authorization to enact a grant program to address the challenge, and Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2014, the 2014 Information Technology Bond Bill, which provided the MBI with access to state bond authorization for Last Mile projects, including the Broadband Extensions program.
“I am very pleased that MBI and Comcast were able to wrap up negotiations so quickly and put this on a two-year completion schedule,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst). “This is a wonderful day for all the citizen advocacy groups, and state, local, and federal government officials who have worked so hard to make this happen.”
“I am happy to see the progress being made in this set of communities,” said State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield). “Recent months’ activity and hard work is paying off, and I am sure more will follow as we all work towards our shared goal of universal, affordable broadband.“
“This agreement with Comcast has been a long-time in coming, and I am very excited that the 6 towns in my district can now look forward with certainty to the expansion of broadband into unserved areas,” said State Representative Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington). “This is a smart investment of state funds in the economic and educational future of these communities that will benefit many residents and businesses for years to come.”