Baker-Polito Administration Announces State Support for High-Speed Internet Expansion in Western Massachusetts

The following is a reprint of a recent press release from the Governor’s office:

February 18, 2015

Baker-Polito Administration Announces State Support for High-Speed Internet Expansion in Western Massachusetts

State will Partner and Invest with Towns to Address the ‘Last Mile’ Challenge, Helping Unserved Residents and Businesses Compete in the Digital Global Economy

BOSTON – Today, Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito announced their commitment to broadband expansion initiatives designed to narrow existing gaps in high-speed Internet access for residents and businesses in Western Massachusetts.

The Baker-Polito Administration will commit up to $50 million in existing capital funding to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) for broadband expansion initiatives. These state funds will be used to catalyze significant additional municipal and private investment, and will support innovative, sustainable, locally-led projects.

“Providing high-speed broadband access to all cities and towns is not only a matter of basic fairness, but it is an essential part of building stronger communities and a stronger economy,” said Governor Baker. “It’s time that we connect cities and towns throughout Massachusetts to the high-speed broadband service that is critical in today’s digital world.”

“This administration is committed to empowering residents and unleashing entrepreneurial activity throughout the Commonwealth,” said Lieutenant Governor Polito. “With this funding, we are one step closer towards closing the digital divide that continues to hinder residents and businesses in Western Massachusetts.”

The announcement came after a joint meeting of the Executive Committee of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative Board of Directors and the MBI Board of Directors. The MBI, a division of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, is the state entity designated to partner with municipalities, residents, and providers to support development of these broadband expansion solutions.

“Despite the current budget deficit, the Baker-Polito Administration remains committed to investing in our regional economies, and creating partnerships that empower communities to be great,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash. “I look forward to working with the Broadband Institute to extend broadband service to additional areas of Massachusetts.”

“I applaud Governor Baker’s decision to release these funds,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg. “It is another clear signal that, even though we have a new Administration, we are still fully committed to creating long promised access to high speed internet for the businesses, students, and residents of our region.” 

 “This is the beginning of the end of the digital divide in western Massachusetts,” said State Senator Benjamin B. Downing. “Connecting all of our residents will create jobs and help the region’s economy thrive.”

 “I am grateful for Governor Baker’s commitment to our continued progress in bringing broadband service to our undeserved residents and businesses in western Massachusetts,” said Representative Stephen Kulik. “Our rural communities must have high-speed broadband in order to function in the modern world and to compete in today’s economy.  The release of this $50 million in state funds, and the partnership with local governments, moves us significantly closer to building the network and finishing the job.”

Currently, 45 Western Massachusetts towns lack any residential cable or broadband access, relying upon DSL or dial-up technologies. Further, many towns have existing cable franchise agreements which provide high-speed Internet access to a part of town, but do not serve the entire community. Planning, evaluation and program development is underway for several key projects which will benefit from state investment, including:

  • Construction of a regional fiber-to-the-home network in interested towns currently lacking any residential broadband;
  • Investment support for the town of Leverett, which is leveraging the MassBroadband 123 network and municipal investment to construct their own fiber to the home network; and
  • A program using state investment to foster public-private partnerships which will expand residential broadband access in communities with existing cable franchise agreements that do not serve the entire community, primarily due to low population density.

“We thank the Baker-Polito Administration for their support of our efforts to deliver high-speed broadband connections to the households and businesses in unserved areas of Massachusetts,” said Eric Nakajima, Director of the MBI at MassTech. “This funding will help us make the construction of these ‘Last Mile’ networks a reality.”

Using an initial $40 million state capital investment and a $45.2 million federal stimulus grant, the MBI built and operates MassBroadband 123, a 1,200 mile fiber backbone for Western and Central Massachusetts. MassBroadband 123 also provides direct connectivity to 1,100 community anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries, town halls, and public safety facilities. MassBroadband 123 provides the needed platform for future broadband expansion and has reduced the cost curve for future expansion directly to residents and businesses. Many broadband expansion projects supported with state investment will leverage MassBroadband 123, and all programs and initiatives receiving state investment will need to demonstrate strong local support, often including municipal investment.

About the Massachusetts Broadband Institute at MassTech

A division of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute at MassTech (MBI) is working to extend high-speed Internet access to homes, businesses, schools, libraries, medical facilities, government offices, and other public places across the Commonwealth, allowing for greater participation in the global economy and civic society. The MBI also promotes broadband usage and adoption by residents and small businesses. Learn more at http://broadband.masstech.org.

Work Begins on Legal, Regulatory Issues

Written by Phillip O’Brien 

The Princeton MLP took important steps last month to move the broadband project forward by addressing several key legal and regulatory issues. These matters require time-consuming meetings and discussions with key participants, including MBI, Verizon, bond counsel, network consultants and Matrix Design Group. Here is the latest:

  • In early January we learned from bond council that borrowing funds to begin the make-ready work is contingent upon certain requirements such as pole attachment rights and operational control. We have addressed these issues through written communications with Matrix Design Group and are working toward a solution that we expect to have in hand this month. Settling these issues means we can also move forward with Matrix contract negotiations while continuing to conclude make-ready work.
  • We met with representatives from MBI on two occasions. As of this writing, no funds have been released from the state for broadband access purposes but MBI does assure us we will receive some funding when our network is operational. How much depends on several issues, including installation specifics and operational control. These issues are being addressing through our respective legal counsels.
  • We also learned that we were not selected by the FCC for federal broadband funding in their latest round of grant applications. This decision will not deter our ongoing efforts to identify and pursue financial assistance from state and federal resources. 

We will update you as developments occur. And believe me, we are as impatient and excited as you are to get broadband internet to Princeton!

After the Vote: What’s Next?

Next-Steps

Written by Phillip O’Brien

With the two successful Nov 18 and Dec 9 votes, the Princeton Broadband MLP (the town’s governing body on broadband) has a clear mandate from our residents: to bring high-speed broadband internet to town as soon as possible.

Rolling up their sleeves, they are already getting to work. Here are the immediate next steps following the vote:

First, Princeton Broadband MLP now has the legal authority to borrow the $1.2 million for “make ready” costs and will begin to formulate a plan for the “make ready” project and deal with all related legal issues surrounding pole ownership, etc.

Second, Princeton Broadband MLP is now able to begin negotiating a contract with Matrix Design Group. The MLP has officially named John Lebeaux and Stan Moss to head the negotiations.

Third, Princeton Broadband MLP met today with Mass Broadband Institute’s council and business representatives to discuss state grant/funding issues, contractual strategies, and legal guidelines.

We will update you on news from all of these fronts as we learn of new developments.

 

The Final Vote: Princeton Residents Approve Broadband Initiative

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Today’s nasty weather proved to be no match for the stalwart residents of Princeton. In spite of the rainy weather, town residents braved the elements and voted overwhelmingly for the broadband initiative. The official results are: 484 (YES) to 73 (NO), which is an 87% majority (a simple 50% majority was needed for passage).

Ladies and Gentleman: All voting hurdles have now been officially cleared for the Princeton Broadband MLP to negotiate a contract with Matrix to bring a high-speed fiber-to-the-home network to our town!

Check back here in the coming days. We will have details on the next steps and a timeline of coming events.

2015 is going to be an exciting year!

Update: Read a Worcester Telegram article of the vote here »

Current Vote Turnout

Weather could be having a factor on voter turnout today. Here’s an updated report:

My husband Michael and I were number 100 and number 101 at 2 pm today! Let’s not leave this to chance. Get out there and vote to finally bring this town into the information age. Yeah, the weather is wet and nasty. But we cannot let this opportunity pass us by. Get out and vote.

 

Through Rain, Sleet, or Snow, the Finish Line for Broadband Arrives

Rain? Sleet? Snow? Bahhhh, We Are Talking Broadband! 

While the weather forecast calls for a wintery mix on Tuesday, Princeton residents have a higher calling: to cast one last vote for or against broadband coming to town. After many years and several preliminary voting steps, this is the FINAL and DECISIVE vote needed for fiber broadband to come to town.

Tuesday’s ballot vote is at the Town Hall Annex from 12:00pm to 8:00pm.

If you would like to find out what we are voting for, read a 5-minute summary. We also recommend you read about the November town vote that preceding this final debt exclusion ballot vote.