News Brief: Grant awarded to extend broadband in Egremont, Monterey

The deal includes safeguards to protect the public funds being invested in the projects as well as a commitment that Fiber Connect will maintain the network and offer broadband service for at least 10 years after each project is completed.

Westborough — The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute have approved a new grant to expand broadband coverage in the unserved towns of Egremont and Monterey, two of three remaining communities under the Commonwealth’s Last Mile program.

The $2,210,000 grant awarded to Monterey-based Fiber Connect LLC, will help extend the company’s existing networks in each community, expanding service above 96 percent coverage in each community.

The grant to Fiber Connect is being made under the MBI’s Flexible Grant Program, launched by the Baker-Polito administration in October 2017, which sought out creative, flexible solutions to address the broadband gaps in the remaining unserved municipalities. This funding ensures that 52 of the 53 communities under the Last Mile program have received grants for dedicated projects, supported by $45.7 million in direct grants from the Commonwealth.

Last summer, MBI, Fiber Connect, and the towns of Egremont and Monterey signed detailed action plans to outline the process for engagement among the groups and to “identify the responsibilities and tasks to be undertaken by each party” to help develop and finalize a proposal. The action plans led to negotiations between Fiber Connect and MBI that culminated in a term sheet agreement on a milestone-based payment structure to govern this award, which ties payments to tangible and verifiable progress on the network extensions in each town. The deal includes safeguards to protect the public funds being invested in the projects as well as a commitment that Fiber Connect will maintain the network and offer broadband service for at least 10 years after each project is completed.

Progress continues on the Last Mile projects in unserved communities in Western and Central Massachusetts. Of the 53 communities in the program, 21 towns have completed projects, connectivity which has delivered broadband access to an estimated 18,000 citizens. Broadband construction is nearing completion in another 11 communities, with service continuing to be rolled out to homes and businesses by the end of the year.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, MBI worked with KCST USA, the operator of the state-owned MassBroadband 123 fiber optic network, to launch Wi-Fi hotspots in the remaining unserved communities. Since the program’s launch in late April, 24 hotspots have been established, helping address the increased demand for broadband from residents and students impacted by the ongoing crisis.