Comcast to wire 96 percent of Buckland, Shelburne by summer

  • Lt Governor Karyn Polito at Broadband Meeting in Buckland on Thursday. March 22, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—

  • Eileen Leahy of Comcast, Alicia Matthews of Comcast, Peter Larkin of MBI, Lt Governor Karyn Polito, and selectboard members Zack Turner, Dena Wilmore and Kevin Fox at Broadband Meeting in Buckland on Thursday. March 22, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Alicia Matthews of Comcast, Peter Larkin of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and Selectboard member Zack Turner at a broadband meeting in Buckland on Thursday. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Dena Willmore of the Buckland Selectboard makes a point to Lt Governor Karyn Polito, left, as fellow Selectboard member Zack Turner, center, looks on. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 3/22/2018 7:41:49 PM

BUCKLAND — The days of sitting in a parked car with a laptop outside a closed library or town hall — tapping into the wifi — are almost over for Buckland and Shelburne residents.

On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito led a broadband meeting to give town officials an update on broadband build-out, and to get feedback on their concerns. She pointed out that, since the Polito-Baker administration got involved with the broadband issue in 2015, only 10 of the 53 towns without broadband are still without definite plans for high-speed internet build-out.

Alicia Matthews of Comcast said cable expansion build-out was somewhat delayed by “make-ready work,” which is the process of making sure enough utility poles are leased for cable use and are strong enough to hold the additional utility. But also, the new service will have higher speeds of broadband, she said.

Matthews also said Comcast will meet or exceed its agreement to extend cable broadband to at least 96 percent of the “cable towns,” which include Buckland, Conway and Shelburne.

“The process is going a lot slower than we hoped,” she said. “But the good news — which I just got a half-hour ago — is the last pole application for us in Buckland is scheduled to be delivered by April 6,” she said Thursday morning. “We expect to have Buckland (service) complete within the next 45 days after receiving it.”

Mike Duffy, chairman of the Shelburne Cable and Broadband Advisory Committee, said he expects Shelburne’s 96 percent build-out to be completed within the next two months. Comcast is waiting for the last new utility pole to be set in Shelburne by Verizon, within the next two weeks.

Conway’s broadband build-out completion is waiting for two new pole sets to be installed.

But several town officials wanted to negotiate for more money to bring broadband to the last 4 percent of households not slated for Comcast broadband.

In Buckland, those unserved households are in Apple Valley, which is accessible only through Ashfield. Buckland Selectboard Chairwoman Dena Willmore asked if the Massachusetts Broadband Institute would consider paying part of the town’s costs to extend Ashfield’s future fiber optic network to those Buckland households.

She pointed out that the towns building fiber optic networks are getting state broadband allocations for about 30 percent of their costs for fiber optic build-out. Willmore asked if Buckland could get a state grant for 30 percent of its fiber optic extension of the Ashfield network into Apple Valley.

The state provided $45 million to 44 towns for fiber optic broadband networks, and gave Comcast $5 million to expand cable broadband through 96 percent of the nine towns that already had some Comcast service.

“Here you have a 96 percent solution that has not cost your town a thing,” said Peter Larkin, MBI chairman. “We don’t have the perfect solutions, but we’re going to be creative. Ashfield will want those extra (Buckland) customers on the borderline. We’re trying to get to where we’re all where we want to be.”

Larkin said each town’s broadband allocation from the state is “locked in,” and that a supplemental sum appropriated for broadband this year is to be used for unanticipated make-ready pole costs.

“Nobody wants to be left behind,” said Matthews. “We’ll work with MBI, or with (other internet) providers. If (broadband connection) is less expensive for neighboring towns, we’ll work it out,” she said.

Duffy said the estimated build-out cost for about 20 Shelburne households along the Colrain town line is $85,000.

“We’re going to bring something before (annual) Town Meeting, but we would have a much stronger argument if we bring to Town Meeting some supplement (from MBI).”

He said asking annual Town Meeting voters to spend $4,000 per household to extend broadband service to 20 households beyond the cable expansion would be difficult.

When asked how many households throughout the new Comcast build-out were likely to subscribe, Buckland Town Administrator Andrea Llamas said, “There’s been incredibly high interest. I wouldn’t be surprised if the take rate (subscriber rate) is 80 percent.”

“I think that’s a conservative number,” Buckland Selectman Zack Turner said. “Some residents I’ve spoken to are nothing but excited.”

“I agree,” Conway Selectman Robert Armstrong said. When northern Conway was wired, the subscriber rate was 100 percent within three months, he said.


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