Crocker only bidder for all unserved towns

Recorder Staff
Published: 1/30/2017 11:16:13 PM

Of the six internet technology companies that applied for state grants to build broadband networks for “unserved” towns, only Crocker Communications of Greenfield offered to cover all unserved western Massachusetts towns in its written proposal — starting with at least 70 percent coverage of each town and expanding coverage if demand is there.

Crocker applied for a $18.3 million state technology grant to wire all 38 unserved western Massachusetts towns — including hilly and sparsely populated Monroe and Hawley — and to be the network’s owner/operator for at least the next 15 years.

“I believe we can make the smaller towns work, if the larger towns are there as well,” company President Matthew Crocker said Monday. “Our own model relies on a subscriber investment, through a home improvement micro loan, through banks and credit unions. We’ve had preliminary and very positive responses from local banks and national banks. I think we’ve found some solutions that will work.”

The company is proposing a subscriber-supported, “fiber to the home” model, which would include 3,622 fiber miles. The total build-out cost is estimated to be about $59 million. Besides the $18.3 million grant, the remaining $41 million would come from a $2,000 to $3,000 one-time installation fee for an estimated 15,000 subscriber households.

To build out this fiber-optic network, Crocker Communications is teaming up with Fujitsu, a $40 billion international company that provides international technology products and services including hardware, software and networking. Crocker says Fujitsu has designed and constructed networks of this size.

“We have arranged with several local and national consumer credit companies to facilitate … consumer micro loans for this installation,” Matthew Crocker wrote in the proposal. “We have received positive responses from several area banks and credit unions (that) will be prepared to originate the consumer loans needed to fund the subscriber-financed portion of the construction. Based on the subscribers’ credit ratings, the additional monthly recurring costs would be as low as $20 to $50 per month. We would streamline the loan application process and integrate it with our online subscription system.”

Crocker is proposing a single-tier, fiber broadband unlimited internet usage of $85 per month. Unlimited local and long-distance phone service could be added for $15 per month.

Besides the $18.3 million grant and the $41 million subscriber installation fee, Crocker Communications will pay between $4 million to $5 million to lease the electronics component.

“We’re committing to (surpass) the 70 percent coverage, which is based on a 50 percent take rate,” Crocker said. “If we have massive success from a town, we would expand its coverage area.

“From a company standpoint, if we build out everything we’ve proposed, and it reaches the 50 percent take rate, it would almost double the size of the company for us,” he said.

Crocker Communications began as a telephone answering service in 1963 and has grown into a telecommunications business, operating as an internet service provider since 1994. In 2014, Crocker was chosen by Leverett to be the internet service provider for the town-owned broadband system.

Franklin County’s unserved towns are: Ashfield, Charlemont, Colrain, Hawley, Heath, Leyden, Monroe, New Salem, Rowe, Shutesbury, Warwick and Wendell.

Crocker’s bid was to wire 70 percent of each town, because the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and its affiliate, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), allocated up to $19.6 million for all towns. The Crocker proposal states that “96 percent coverage per town can be achieved with additional investment from MBI or subscriber financing.”

Other bids

In another bid, Whip City Fiber, an internet service (MLP) branch of Westfield Gas and Electric, offered an open-ended “desire and willingness to work with any subject town ... to design and engineer, procure, construct and operate a municipal network.” But this bid didn’t specify towns or a specific grant request.

In November MBI put out a “request for proposals” (RFPs) seeking “qualified private firms willing to design, build, own, operate, manage and maintain high-speed broadband internet networks.” The RFP requirement was to provide broadband internet access to at least 96 percent of town residents “in one or more of the towns” at download speeds of 25 Mbps (megabits per second) and 3 Mbps for uploads.

The proposals were submitted by Jan. 11, and are now being reviewed by MBI. In a news release, MBI said submission of a grant application does not automatically qualify a provider to receive one. Also, each town will have final approval over whether to pursue a proposed solution with a private provider, according to MBI.

“MBI will publish additional information about the grant program, and the review process in a timely manner,” MBI stated. The awarding of MBI grant money will be based on many factors, including feedback from towns and approval by the MBI board of directors and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s board of directors.

Of the 12 unserved Franklin County towns, Shutesbury and New Salem were the only towns for which other companies offered bids.

Comcast, which is already expanding cable broadband service for Buckland, Shelburne, Northfield and Conway, has proposed new service for Shutesbury, Goshen, Montgomery and Princeton.

In Shutesbury, Comcast proposed to build 37 miles of cable, serving at least 96 percent of the residents. The cost of this would be $510,000 from the construction grant allocation, $360,000 from the professional service allocation, and a 50 percent town contribution (or from another source) of 785,000.

Charter Communications of Rochester, N.Y., has offered to extend its network into Princeton, New Salem, Shutesbury, Hancock, Egremont and Monterey because “they are contiguous to our existing operations” and “represent a manageable capital outlay.” The company also believed they could “complete a build-out of these towns in a reasonable period of time.”

Fiber Connect, which is based in Monterey in Berkshire County, requested $13.4 million for broadband build out for Alford, Becket, New Marlborough, Oties, Tolland and Tyringham.

Mid Hudson Data Corp. placed a bid for the town of Tyringham only.

To see the full proposals, go online to: broadband.masstech.org and then click on “Private Provider responses to MBI Last Mile Grant RFP.”


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