Colrain proceeds with broadband make-ready work

Published: 11/29/2019 6:38:56 PM

COLRAIN — Throughout the miles of roads in Colrain, the process to install broadband is underway, and right now, utility poles are the focus.

“We’re at the make-ready stage,” said Michael Shuipis, chair of the town’s Broadband Advisory Committee.

Make-ready focuses on making sure that utility poles are able to accommodate the fibers needed for broadband, Shuipis said.

“There are requirements as to spacing between electrical wires, telephone wires and communication wires (including internet),” on the poles, Shuipis said. “There are some poles not just in our town (but) in any town that are old. The pole may be too short (for) the new regulations on spacing.

“We have 90 miles of roads,” he continued. “We have a lot, a lot of work to be done. It’s moving along.”

Shuipis said Verizon originally estimated the work would be done by the end of November, but in September, provided an update that it won’t be done until March.

“That’s not atypical in my experience in this industry,” said Shuipis, who worked for years in the financial side of the telecommunications industry, for years as a chief financial officer and, currently, as a part-time financial consultant for a company in New York.

Inspecting and moving wires on utility poles mainly falls to Eversource and Verizon, Shuipis said, who estimated there are more than 10,000 utility poles across the state that need to be checked.

“There’s a lot on Verizon and Eversource’s plates. But they’re powerful, big companies that are not to be rushed or pushed” by state or local governments, he said. “In my experience in New York, the companies are more powerful than (the) communities.”

Shuipis said the Broadband Advisory Committee is working on multiple steps at once.

On Nov. 25, Colrain’s Selectboard voted to enter into a contract with Westfield Gas & Electric, which would do business as Whip City Fiber, Shuipis said.

The company would act as the internet service provider/network operator, which “will buy the internet service for us, provide the internet service and will operate the network,” Shuipis said. “(Whip City Fiber’s) going to run the business for us.”

Locally, a small building called a telecommunications hut should be put up in December, Shuipis said.

Current internet fibers, which serve buildings like Town Hall and the library, will be redirected to the hut, as well as future customers, Shuipis said.

“It’s a pretty important step for us,” he said. “In the future, there’s going to be hundreds of customers. We need to (house the fibers) in that hut.”

To fund the make-ready work, Colrain received state funding through the Last Mile Infrastructure Grant program administered by the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. The Last Mile program encompasses 53 towns statewide, according to Brian Noyes, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

“In total, the state has made roughly $35 million in direct awards to support Last Mile projects since 2016,” Noyes said.

In 2017, Colrain was awarded $1.31 million. Other Franklin County towns were also awarded money: Charlemont ($960,000), Heath ($820,000), New Salem ($750,000) and Rowe ($440,000).

A second pot of funding has been released for make-ready costs, aimed at towns whose costs exceeded their original estimates, Noyes said.

On Wednesday, Noyes was unable to provide more information as to whether Colrain would be eligible for additional state funding.

For Shuipis, it remains unclear if Colrain will be over its estimated make-ready costs and therefore potentially eligible for more funding.

“It doesn’t look like we’ll be way over,” Shuipis said earlier this month.

Reach Maureen O’Reilly at moreilly@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.




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