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Comcast broadband slowed by pole work



Recorder Staff
Thursday, November 30, 2017

Comcast’s Cable Expansion Project through nine towns “is progressing, but not at the pace at which we had hoped,” says a letter from Comcast Senior Director Alicia Matthews to the deputy director of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute.

Unfinished utility pole work necessary for installing the cable has not been completed by the utilities that own the poles.

“While these types of construction activities never move as quickly as one would like,” Matthews wrote. “Comcast is, for the most part, confident that we will continue to meet all of the deliverables outlined in the Grant Disbursement Agreement.”

In Franklin County, the affected towns are Buckland, Conway, Gill, Montague, Northfield and Shelburne, with Chester, Hardwick and Pelham in neighboring counties.

Although Comcast has until Aug. 17 to finish the state-subsidized cable expansion project, company officials had hoped to complete most of the work by the end of 2017 “if all the make-ready work was complete by June,” Matthews wrote.

According to Matthews, Comcast completed the following work for all the towns in the contract: strand mapping, engineering and design and drafting. “Materials have been ordered and are available when we are able to continue construction,” she said. “Further, Comcast has completed all construction work, both internal and external, that did not require pole attachment licensing. With very limited exceptions, all applications for permits to attach to utility poles have been filed since Jan. 19. Comcast has made payment for all make-ready work, totalling about $1.4 million.”

But pole installations and other work on utility poles required of Verizon and Eversource has slowed the work, according to a local cable advisory official.

“Our take is that Verizon, in particular, is dragging its feet on this,” said Michael Duffy, chairman of Shelburne’s Cable Advisory Committee. “You can tell Comcast has done everything they can do. They’ve paid all the fees and everything is in place. It’s totally out of their hands, if the make-ready work isn’t done.”

“Make-ready” work is the physical adjustments that must be done on the poles to make a space on it for the broadband cable. Duffy explained that the utility poles are labeled green, red or yellow before the cable is laid. Green means the utility pole is ready for use; yellow means make-ready work is needed and red means the utility pole is inadequate and must be replaced. Because Comcast is leasing space on the poles, the pole work is left to the utilities.

According to Duffy, the Comcast/MBI contract says about 50 percent of the total cable build-out is to have been done by Feb. 15, 2018, and the total build-out is to be finished by Aug. 17, 2018.

In Shelburne, he said, Comcast has already installed at least two miles of broadband cable, bringing access to potentially 18 homes. Comcast refers to homes with new broadband access as “passings activated,” because these households may or may not choose to become broadband subscribers. An area along South Shelburne Road and Lucy Fisk Road is ready for construction and would result in another 11 passings activated. But Comcast is under contract to activate another 134 homes in Shelburne, beyond those 29.

In total, Comcast says it has activated service for 149 homes in the combined nine towns and hopes to add access to another 191 homes within the next few weeks.

Out of concerns that make-ready work delays will stall broadband completion, many residents in the cable towns have asked their legislators to work with Verizon and Eversource, to help speed the process.

“The status report on where things stand reinforced our concerns about this project getting done on time,” said state Rep. Stephen Kulik, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “We (Sen. Adam Hinds, Rep. Paul Mark) have discussed this with MBI and at a meeting in my State House office with Eversource and Verizon.”

“We have been hearing concerns that Verizon was not moving as expeditiously as possible,” Kulik said. “The (Gov. Charlie) Baker Administration and Legislature have weighed in to have Verizon move quickly. One thing Verizon is currently doing is hiring new line workers, and many of these people will be assigned to this project.”

Verizon responds

Verizon spokesman Michael Murphy denied that Verizon has been holding up the project.

“There is no factual basis to suggest that Verizon is responsible for delays in Comcast’s project,” he said. “We’re working very closely with Comcast on these local broadband projects. The same holds true for the other pole owners. We’re just one piece of the puzzle, but we’re in constant contact with Comcast to understand their priorities and keep them informed on Verizon’s portion of the project.

“Verizon has already completed a great deal of work in the nine communities,” Murphy continued. “In some cases, we’re 80 percent or more complete. We’ll be able to finish our work after others involved complete their preliminary work.”

Buckland’s broadband expansion project is waiting for four new utility poles to be installed so that line construction can begin.

The progress report doesn’t include information about broadband expansion in Buckland, Gill or Montague.

In Conway, according to the Nov. 16 update, 40 more homes have cable access and another 43 will have it as the work is “released to construction.

In Northfield, nine more homes have been activated for cable.