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State attorney general's office orders Leverett to seek new broadband bids

— The town will have to seek new bids for its planned municipal broadband network due to a technical problem with bid forms used by the Select Board last month to select a contractor for $2.7 million.

The town’s Broadband Committee had recommended that G4S, a the Florida-based technology corporation that also designed Leverett’s fiber-to-home network, be selected from eight bidders to build the project, even though Millenium Communications Group and Maverick Construction had submitted lower bids. Town officials said there were “substantial problems” with those two bids.

Selectman Peter d’Errico said the town was instructed by the state attorney general’s office that there was a “technical glitch” with the bid form, which allowed bidders to list exceptions to the bid specifications they were given. Millenium and Maverick complained that they were allowed to exclude themselves from doing any excavation in rock and from hooking up power at either end of the network.

“The attorney general said we shouldn’t have allowed bidders to exclude parts of projects from their bid,” said d’Errico. “The irony is the complaining bidders both took exceptions.” Leverett’s plan to build a fiber-optic line connecting every home and business in town by the end of 2014 has made it the first town in the region to move to offer high-speed Internet and telephone service to every resident.

To do that, Town Meeting a year ago voted to borrow as much as $3.6 million for the town-owned network, which would connect with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute’s $71.6 million MassBroadband 123 “middle mile network.” MBI’s fiber network, also being built by G4S, is due to become available in town in June, with direct service to the town hall, library, elementary school and police and fire stations.

But while the order to call for new bids is a setback, d’Errico said, it also gives the town a chance to look at MBI’s recent announcement that it hopes to build out some last-mile networks with a proposed $40 million broadband bond.

“We’re taking time to look at the whole situation before we do any re-bid,” he said, “because we don’t want to do something to put us crosswise with a regional solution. We want to make sure that we’re doing something coherent with the big picture. All of us as committee members understand there’s a whole region that needs this, and we want to be mindful of the regional needs.”

If not for Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal for a new broadband bond to help the state build out the middle mile in communities, d’Errico said, the AG’s ruling “would have just been a hassle.”

“I feel this gives us some breathing room to look at what’s going on around us.”

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