Comcast pitches broadband to Charlemont

Recorder Staff
Wednesday, February 28, 2018

CHARLEMONT — With the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) offering telecommunications providers more incentives through the Flexible Grant Program to bring high-speed internet to unserved hilltowns, Comcast is reaching out to new towns, including Charlemont.

Comcast Vice President Daniel M. Glanville made a proposal to the Selectboard and Broadband Committee Monday night, offering Comcast services to Charlemont, which has not had cable TV or internet service before now. But to bring access to at least 75 percent of the town’s 700 households, Comcast would require both the town’s MBI broadband allocation (of $960,000) and about $1.1 million more. And a 96 percent build-out would cost an additional $1.7 million.

The network would be owned and operated by Comcast, but the benefits would be that the cable network would be built by a known, qualified provider which “would keep the technology current” and offer lower rates than are possible from a smaller network without the economies-of-scale operating costs, according to Peter Larkin, MBI chairman.

If Charlemont were to get Comcast, its subscriber rates would be the same as those in nearby Shelburne or Buckland, Glanville said.

“I know you have a difficult decision to make,” Glanville told town officials before he left. “And I understand we may not be the solution for you.”

Glanville said Comcast was also reaching out to Worthington and Middlefield. Town officials asked Glanville to have Comcast put its proposal into writing.

However, Charlemont’s “Plan A” is to build a municipal-owned fiber optic network, which would require the town to borrow $1.75 million in addition to the state grant. The town has already received the first of four payments of its MBI allocation and has hired Westfield Gas & Electric to do the initial mapping and the detailed fiber network design, said Broadband Committee Chairman Bob Handsaker.

“The next step would be filing pole applications and starting make-ready work,” said Handsaker. “Our preferred plan is to build a municipal fiber network through Westfield Gas & Electric, but we’re listening to these other proposals in case we can’t build it for some reason.”

Larkin has been meeting with the unserved western Massachusetts towns to offer advice on researching broadband build-out proposals towns have received through MBI’s flexible grant program. He advised Charlemont officials to reach a decision for its broadband plan within the next 30 days.

Three companies have submitted proposals for Charlemont to MBI for fiber optic networks that would use the town’s $960,000 broadband grant allocation: Crocker Communications, Matrix and Westfield Gas & Electric.

Handsaker said another concern has been whether the town might qualify for money included in a bond bill last November, designed to cover make-ready cost overages for towns building municipal broadband networks.