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Broadband funding only available to towns with no service

A $40 million state broadband fund that is supposed to help bring high-speed Internet to the “last mile” of rural towns won’t be coursing through Hilltowns with partial Internet service.

In towns with limited cable access — such as the Shelburne Falls area — the rural sections with no service may not get a share of that $40 million “pie,” because the money is to be used for the 36 out of 42 Wired West collective member towns that have no service at all, according to Jim Drawe, Wired West’s finance committee chairman.

Drawe stunned Shelburne selectmen with this news recently, and Reva Reck, Wired West’s vice chairman and outreach coordinator, spoke to selectmen in both Shelburne and Buckland over the past week to explain what strategy will be used to “incentivize” Comcast to expand service to the unserved parts of the towns.

The six Wired West member towns with broadband access through Comcast are Huntington in Hampshire County and Buckland, Conway, Northfield and Shelburne in Franklin County.

Besides losing out on the possibility of using some of that $40 million bond for fiber-optic infrastructure, any U.S. Department of Agriculture loans that Wired West might potentially borrow for the final mile build-out cannot include areas that already have two “broadband providers,” such as a phone company and cable service.

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