Last-mile broadband collaboration takes next step in planning

 

Greenfield Recorder 09/24/2014, Page C03

By DIANE BRONCACCIO Recorder Staff

BOSTON — Now that the state has $50 million to help build out rural broadband Internet access, western Massachusetts legislators met Tuesday with Internet community groups to plan what state Sen. Stan Rosenberg calls “the Last Mile Solution” — how to secure high-speed Internet in unserved and partially served communities.

Over the next two months, WiredWest and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments will hold local meetings with town officials to gauge community interest, concerns and level of commitment in helping to bring in broadband. Then, in January, when town officials are working on their new fiscal-year budgets, there will be meetings on the financing needed to complete the fiber optic infrastructure.

Last winter, officials said some of the towns involved may be asked to “co-sign” for loans to help pay for the $100 million to $120 million infrastructure. WiredWest hopes to repay any loans through fees charged to Internet providers to use the infrastructure.

The meeting in Rosenberg’s State House office included Linda Dunlavy of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, representatives from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, WiredWest and eight area legislators representing the 44 unserved towns and the partially served towns, which include six Franklin County towns with partial cable service.

State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, said discussion included how to spend the state appropriation most efficiently, and how best to use WiredWest’s expertise.

“We have a plan to have WiredWest and FRCOG be the lead entities reaching out to the communities, to explain how this is going to work” Kulik said. “The state will provide some technical assistance.”

Kulik pointed out that Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration has been very supportive of efforts to bring broadband to rural western Massachusetts and “have made it a priority. We don’t know who the next governor is going to be,” he added. “I think it will be to our advantage to get this framework in place before there’s a changing administration.”

When asked how long it might take to bring fiber optic cable to all the towns, Kulik said WiredWest estimates that a full build-out could take about three years.

“2018 is a reasonable goal,” he said. “Leverett is showing us that full build-out of a town could happen in a year. But to do all the 44 unserved communities is going to take a little more time.”

State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said this fall’s series of meetings “are going to determine what towns are capable of, and what kind of commitment should they realistically be expected to make” toward the build-out.