$10.2M federal award to increase broadband access in Western Massachusetts

Staff Writer
Published: 1/5/2020 5:15:05 PM

More than $10.2 million in funding for the internet service provider Westfield Gas & Electric that was recently authorized by the Federal Communications Commission will help expand fiber-based broadband to 12,400 households in 20 rural Western Massachusetts towns, including nine in Franklin County.

According to Deputy Director of Communications Ryan Boehm with the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, the $10.2 million in funding benefits the nine Franklin County towns of: Ashfield, Charlemont, Colrain, Heath, Leyden, New Salem, Rowe, Shutesbury and Wendell. Other towns receiving funding are: Alford, Blandford, Becket, Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, New Ashford, Otis, Plainfield, Washington and Windsor.

The utility company will receive the funding over the next decade, and then distribute the money to the participating towns. According to the release from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, Westfield Gas & Electric has previously received more than $19 million in support from the state’s Last Mile Infrastructure Grant program.

Efforts to receive this funding have been in the works for at least the last six months, said Leyden Broadband Committee Chair Bob Ryan.

“Over a 10-year period, (Leyden) would be getting about $250,000, or $25,000 a year,” Ryan said. “We’re very excited about it.”

To be eligible for funding, all 20 towns were required to have a certain number of homes with the option to connect to the broadband system. Ryan said the money will likely be used to help pay down debt services or decrease subscriber costs for those interested in joining the broadband network in Leyden.

In the neighboring town of Colrain, Town Coordinator Kevin Fox said the town can “expect to receive $100,000 a year for 10 years, likely beginning in 2023.” Because the funding will not begin to arrive for another few years, Fox said they haven’t decided how it will specifically be used, but it will be put toward broadband in some manner.

The funding was applied for by Westfield Gas & Electric on behalf of Colrain, Leyden and the full consortium of towns. The amount of funding per town was determined based on census populations.

Through the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), the state will also provide more than $1 million in collateral funding to support the federal award to Westfield Gas & Electric. MBI is a division of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, which works to extend high-speed internet access across Massachusetts.

“Our administration has been making significant progress toward delivering broadband access to the unserved and underserved residents in rural Massachusetts,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a press release. “We will continue to work with our municipalities and other partners to make these investments in reliable high-speed internet access and the quality of life for all residents.”

“Reliable high-speed internet is an essential service that everyone should have access to,” Congressman Jim McGovern said in the release. “These new federal funds will help ensure every household has the tools they need for success in the 21st century, and I am proud of the strong work of our local leaders to leverage federal dollars and expand high-speed internet across the commonwealth.”

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.


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