Rural towns get broadband funding

For the Gazette
Published: 5/25/2017 10:27:55 PM

Several towns that have been dreaming of high-speed broadband since 2010, including Cummington, have just received state grants for broadband build-out.

This month, the Baker-Polito Administration released about $11 million in broadband grants to 13 “unserved” western Massachusetts that are on track to build town-owned broadband networks.

On Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced the release of $6.8 million for “Last Mile” connectivity for the following towns: Charlemont ($960,000); Colrain ($1.3 million); Cummington ($840,000); Heath ($820,000); New Salem ($750,000); Otis ($1.7 million); and Rowe ($440,000).

In an earlier round this month, $4.6 million in grants were awarded to: Ashfield ($1.4 million); Plainfield ($650,000); and Shutesbury ($870,000), among others.

“The Last Mile program is a critical tool that is bringing many communities in western Massachusetts into the 21st century,” Baker said.

“High-speed internet access is integral to operating a business in today’s competitive global economy, where transactions often occur online,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash. “We are committed to working with every Last Mile town that wants to pursue high-speed internet access to create new opportunities.”

“It’s absolutely huge that this money is going to be released,” said Sheila Litchfield, who chairs both the Heath Broadband Committee and the Select Board. “We’re hoping to sign a contract with the state in one of our next two (Selectboard) meetings,” she said. “That will release the first part of the money for design and engineering.”

That is the good news, although the town still faces many broadband challenges. “We need an accurate make-ready construction cost,” said Litchfield.

She said town officials just received the results of its pole survey. About 47 percent of the utility poles in Heath either need replacing or repairs to carry fiber-optic cable.

“That makes our make-ready costs higher than what MBI (the Massachusetts Broadband Institute) originally calculated,” she said. “We’re trying to work with our legislators and work that out.”

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