News Brief: Comcast selected for Worthington’s broadband project
MBI, town of Worthington select Comcast for broadband project
Westborough — The Massachusetts Broadband Institute at MassTech has formally approved an award of $2.2 million to Comcast to support the construction of a broadband network in the twon of Worthington. The grant, which was approved by both the MassTech executive committee and by the MBI board of directors, followed a majority vote at Worthington’s town meeting in May choosing Comcast and supporting the construction of its advanced fiber network to deliver broadband to the town, including approval of a project coverage map. Comcast and Worthington also signed a formal cable franchise agreement Dec. 11. The proposed broadband network will deliver expanded connectivity to over 96 percent of Worthington’s residential and business premises once the project is complete.
Under the grant agreement, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will provide an award of $2,213,809 from the Last Mile Program, funds that will supplement Comcast’s capital investment in the construction of the Worthington network. MBI will utilize Worthington’s original Last Mile allocation of $1,070,000, with the remaining funds coming from additional investments from both the Commonwealth and the town, utilizing an agreement that will allow the town to contribute year over year without having to use municipal bonds.
The Last Mile Program is an effort to close connectivity gaps in 53 unserved and underserved tows in western and central Massachusetts. This is the first agreement made under MBI’s Flexible Grant Program, a Last Mile grant program launched in October 2017 which sought out “creative, flexible solutions” to address the broadband gaps in the remaining unserved municipalities within the Last Mile program footprint.
As part of the grant agreement, the Commonwealth provided an initial disbursement of $20,000 for Comcast to complete field surveys in Worthington to determine which of the town’s residential premises were serviceable, helping to identify the target of 96 percent of the total residential premises along public roads in the town. Following that assessment, Comcast presented its findings to the Worthington Selectboard, which reviewed and approved the preliminary coverage maps leading to the official signing of the cable television license agreement between the town and Comcast. Under all public/private awards in the Last Mile Program, local approval is a key step to state funds being awarded.
The amount of the award above Worthington’s Last Mile allocation ($1,143,809) will be supplied upfront by capital bond funds from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, with half of that figure ($571,904) repaid to the Commonwealth by the town. The unique financing structure was approved by EOHED and the Massachusetts Division of Local Services, delivering a creative financing mechanism that will limit financial strain on the town and remove the need for town borrowing.
The Flexible Grant Program received five proposals covering 14 of the remaining unserved municipalities in western and central Massachusetts, including the proposal from Comcast that covered Worthington and four other unserved towns. Comcast completed a Last Mile project in September 2018, which expanded connectivity in nine “partially-served” communities in western and central Massachusetts, an effort that brought high-speed internet access to 1,303 premises, 214 more than the original project goal and at no additional cost to the state. Comcast continues to be a part of the Commonwealth’s solution to the rural broadband issue, having received a Last Mile grant from the Commonwealth in June 2017 to support the construction of a new broadband network in the town of Montgomery, which is also completely unserved by broadband.
Of the 53 communities that were either completely or partially unserved at the beginning of 2017, 42 towns have been set on a dedicated path to broadband connectivity and several towns have completed, active networks. The Commonwealth has awarded nearly $32 million total to close broadband gaps in western Massachusetts and the Berkshires, including grants from EOHED’s Last Mile Infrastructure Grant Program, which has announced a total of $19.5 million in direct grants to town-owned municipal broadband networks.
With the addition of Worthington, 18 Massachusetts towns are benefitting from Last Mile grants to private providers to expand broadband connections. That includes the nine partially served towns where Comcast expanded connectivity under a grant from the Last Mile’s Broadband Extension Program. MBI’s previous request for proposals from private providers led to grants that will help deliver broadband to nearly 2,700 premises in five unserved towns, including Comcast’s project in Montgomery and Charter’s projects in four unserved towns. Charter is also expanding broadband in another three unserved towns in Massachusetts under a Last Mile grant.