Worthington seeks more broadband coverage, 1 house left out

  • A part of a map of Worthington showing where broadband internet will and will not be installed. PROVIDED IMAGE

For the Gazette
Published: 3/13/2019 3:34:12 PM

WORTHINGTON — Like many hilltowns, Worthington is currently involved in the long-awaited process of acquiring high-speed internet. Plans are in the works to service 97.7 percent of the town, or 670 properties, when hookups are completed in late spring or summer of 2020.

According to Select Board member Charley Rose, that leaves 16 properties out of the planned service area, and the town is currently negotiating with Comcast to include those residences in the final plan, minus two properties on Lindsay Road.

“One is an abandoned camp, and both are off-grid, so we don’t intend to build them regardless,” Rose said.

Rose said that Comcast is required by their agreement with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to provide information on how much it will cost the town to provide service to the remaining homes.

“We are waiting for that number, and we are hoping to get it by spring in time for the annual Town Meeting,” he said.

Rose said the additional funding would likely be taken out of the town’s stabilization fund, which would not put an additional burden on tax payers; however, that decision would have to be approved at the Town Meeting.

He said he is confident that the remaining properties will be included in the final buildout plan.

“I don’t think that there will be an issue on spending money for this,” Rose said. “To say we are not going to pay for them to get Comcast doesn’t seem fair, and I have a hard time believing that most people in town don’t feel the same way.”

‘A special case’

One home belonging to 79-year-old Hattie Plehn, of 829 West Street, appears to be left out of the plan completely, due to its remote location in Worthington and the fact that it receives its utilities from the town of Chester.

“Hers is a special case that is different than all the other homes,” Select Board Administrative Assistant Peg O’Neal said. “She is really way out there and has a very long steep driveway, all of which makes it far more difficult, and she gets her utilities from another town.”

Still, Plehn, a current member of the Select Board, says she feels left out in the cold as she faces having to personally fund a portion of the cable build to her home.

In a letter addressed to the Worthington Select Board in October 2018, Eileen B. Leahy, Comcast’s senior manager of government and regulatory affairs, said that Plehn’s cable services would have to be received from Comcast in Chester and that the company would “provide a reasonable cost estimate to the homeowner.”

Plehn said Comcast informed her last month that she would have to pay roughly $49,000 to have them bring service to her home.

“I was stunned when I heard that amount,” she said. “It’s outrageous, I just can’t believe that the state allows this.”

Plehn said she has met with a representative of Comcast to discuss lowering her assessed contribution.

“I am waiting to hear from them with another number, but from the sound of it, I don’t think it is going down that much,” she said. “I have already been told that the town won’t cover it — maybe a small amount, but certainly not $49,000.”

 O’Neal said that the other homes in town will be “nowhere near that pricey” to connect.

As residences and businesses throughout the hilltowns are slowly but surely acquiring broadband, Plehn worries that the value of her property will decrease a great deal if her home has no high-speed internet service.

“I have a very special house here in Worthington,” she said. “Now I have to worry about what is going to happen to the resale value my home.”

For now, both Plehn and the Select Board are each in a holding pattern, waiting to hear from Comcast regarding the new cost estimates for the broadband buildout so they can move forward.

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