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Leverett broadband project sees delays, progress

Though the opening phase has been slowed by preparations to Leverett’s current infrastructure grid, key figures in the effort to bring broadband access to the town’s 1,800 residents are preparing to solicit bids for construction and maintenance of the network, which could begin early next year.

The Advisory Broadband Committee, which was created after the vote supporting the plan at the annual Town Meeting in April, reviewed 13 responses to the Request For Information put out by the town in September, which asked for input from network installation firms and service providers..

“We’ve been studying the feedback we’ve gotten, which will help us to find interested parties and also guide our decision-making as we prepare to take on a contract,” said Peter d’Errico, a member of the Select Board and the broadband committee.

The committee is initiating the search for a contract to build the fiber-optic network even as negotiations between the town and existing service providers, as well as repairs to existing wires following superstorm Sandy, are slowing the preparations for breaking ground on the project. Western Massachusetts Electric Co. and Verizon, the town’s current vendors, have been asked to perform “make-ready” maintenance on Leverett’s telephone poles in advance of adding new cable lines to the above-ground network, a project that is estimated to extend into 2013.

In addition to outfitting the poles for additional wires, service teams are finishing cleanup from damage from the October storm, which left several Valley communities without power.

“The good thing is that the application and request phase on our end can happen concurrently with the make-ready work, so we’re trying to wrap up the planning for this by the time we’re ready to build,” said Richard Nathhorst of the broadband committee.

Leverett homeowners received an easement request in the mail along with their property tax bills last week, which they are asked to sign and return to the Town Clerk’s office. The form will give the town permission to install connection points between its central grid and individual properties.

“It’s a necessary step; once we input the network itself, we’ll be able to go house by house and set up the last segment for each one,” d’Errico said. Broadband Committee members said that they hoped to use the information from the RFIs to draft an Invitation For Bids by the end of November.

Before breaking ground on the project with the new contractor, Leverett will issue an offer for an engineering and design consultant to oversee the construction phase and represent the town’s interests in planning the cable network.

The broadband committee holds open meetings Thursdays at 5 p.m. at Town Hall unless otherwise posted.

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