WESTBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Massachusetts Broadband Institute at MassTech (MBI) has formally approved an award of $2.2 million to Comcast to support the construction of a broadband network in the Town of Worthington, Mass. 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 on December 11th. 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 which will supplement Comcast’s capital investment in the construction of the Worthington network. The 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 which will allow the town to contribute year over year without having to use municipal bonds.
“The Last Mile program has made great progress in identifying and funding projects that will help close the connectivity gaps in these towns, through public-private partnerships like this, and through the Commonwealth’s support for municipal-owned networks in 20-plus towns,” said Governor Charlie Baker.
“As I’ve met with leaders and residents in unserved towns, it’s clear that closing the broadband gap is a top priority, for homeowners, for parents of school age children, and for citizens who need access to online resources,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “We are also thankful to Representative Stephen Kulik for his leadership and support of the Last Mile program.”
“Expanding broadband access has been a major issue during my time as a legislator and I am extremely pleased to see a majority of Last Mile towns now on the path to connectivity, including my hometown of Worthington,” said State Representative Stephen Kulik. “It is gratifying to see this agreement happen as my tenure in the general court comes to a close. For my neighbors in Worthington and across western Massachusetts, access to high-speed internet will have a major impact when it comes to economic development, education, healthcare, and in attracting new residents. My thanks to the Baker-Polito Administration, to my colleagues in the Senate, and the leaders in each of the unserved towns for your partnership to tackle this critical initiative.”
“It is exciting to see tangible progress in our continued quest to ensure universal high speed broadband coverage in western Mass.,” said State Senator Adam G. Hinds. “This partnership between Worthington, Comcast and the MBI leverages state grant monies to support the construction of a high-speed network in the community, and helps bridge the digital divide that has existed for far too long in our region.”
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 the 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 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 Select Board, 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.
“I believe the Town of Worthington is very pleased to have a path forward to bring broadband service to virtually everyone who wants it,” said Charley Rose, Chair of the Worthington Selectboard. “This has been a long process and a solution would not have been possible without the combined effort of a large number of people, both in and out of government. That includes the hard work of State Representative Kulik, State Senator Adam Hinds and Ben Downing before him. Governor Patrick led the effort with initial rounds of funding and Governor Baker was faithful to the Last Mile program and is shepherding it to its conclusion. I’d also like to thank the many individuals from across western Massachusetts who gave their time to move this project forward. We look forward to partnering with Comcast to provide ubiquitous broadband, television, and telephone service to our residents and businesses. Adding these services will immeasurably improve the quality of life and the economic viability of the Hilltowns.”
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 (EOHED), with half that figure ($571,904) repaid to the Commonwealth by Worthington by the town. The unique financing structure was approved by EOHED and the Massachusetts Division of Local Services (DLS), delivering a creative financing mechanism which will limit financial strain on the town and remove the need for town borrowing.
The MBI’s 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 which 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.
“Comcast is honored to partner with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute and the town of Worthington to bring our state-of-the art, fiber-rich network to its residents and businesses. This network expansion will enable broadband speeds up to and including 2 Gigabit per second for residential service and multi-Gigabit speeds for businesses, speeds which are among the fastest and most widely available,” said Michael Parker, Senior Vice President for Comcast’s Western New England Region, which includes Western Massachusetts.
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, eighteen 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. The 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 thanks to a Last Mile grant.
“This is exciting progress, as another unserved town is on a path toward connectivity,” stated Peter Larkin, Chair of the Board for the Massachusetts Broadband Institute and Special Advisor to the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development for the Last Mile project. “This grant award builds on the recent successful completion of MBI’s projects with Comcast in the nine partially-served towns. With clear project timelines, no required investment from the town, and the fact that the state’s investment is capped, makes these public-private partnerships extremely appealing. We’ve made great progress over the last two years and we believe we are close to identifying concrete paths forward for the remaining unserved towns.”
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