The MBI board held its meeting on Tuesday in Lee Town Hall.
The map of underserved towns is slowly filling in, but there is a long way to go before the high-speed services are live in all towns.
LEE, Mass. — The Massachusetts Broadband Initiative relaunched its push last April for connecting the last mile of broadband service.
Over the past year, the organization has crafted “paths forward” for 45 of the 53 underserved communities remaining. The organization had moved away from the “one size fits all” model for expanding internet service to crafting plans for each individual town. There are about eight communities left without some type of internet option and the organization hopes to issue a request for interest soon to fill those gaps.
“We’re looking at other alternatives. It is a work in progress and it has not yet been designed,” Chairman Peter Larkin said on Tuesday when the board held its meeting in Lee. For the other 45 towns, incremental progress has been made.
A number of them are under an agreement with cable company Comcast to expand service. Buckland, Chester, Conway, Hardwick, Huntington, Montague, Northfield, Pelham, and Shelbourne are part of Comcast’s proposal. The goal for that is to be completed by August 2018. That would connect close to 1,257 premises to high-speed internet. Charter Communications has taken three towns under an agreement — Hinsdale, Lanesborough, and West Stockbridge. Work has already begun on expanding service in those towns and completion is scheduled for December.
Mount Washington, Royalston in Worcester County and Warwick in Franklin County are all looking to build their own networks. MBI is expecting Mount Washington to be commissioned in October. Warwick and Royalston are both looking at piloting a wireless system. Egremont, Hancock, Monterey, New Salem, Princeton, and Shutesbury are looking at a proposal with Charter. New Marlborough, Sandisfield, Monterey, and Tolland are negotiating with Frontier Communications for service.
“There was a rescaling of it and Monterey has fallen off,” Larkin said but added the state is looking at taking a role in those negotiations.
Eighteen other towns are currently working with Westfield Gas & Electric as a project manager to design networks. The grants pay for a portion of the cost to build a network, with the towns borrowing for the rest. Bill Ennen, who is a liaison for implementation, said “18 towns have awards. We have two more applications pending. Of the 18 awards, 12 have money.”
Ennen said those towns, in the fall, should start to see “make-ready” cost estimates. But there is no guarantee that any of them will put follow through because the plan comes with the need to borrow — which some MBI members have felt has caused a hold up in some towns.
“They’re starting down this road and they are going to have to go through their own processes, to design and engineer a network, they also have to also analyze the make-ready cost, and they have to look at the financial obligations,” Larkin said.
Others suggested the manpower needed to run a municipal system may be too much for some of the unserved, small communities. That leaves Blandford, Florida, Hawley, Monroe, Monterey, New Braintree, Petersham, Savoy, and Worthington, currently not working on a proposal. Middlefield was looking at building its own system but bids came in too high and now the town is regrouping.
“Given there was no progress a year or so ago, we’re making progress,” Larkin said. “There are different solutions for different circumstances.”
The MBI board kicked around ideas of how to get those towns connected and Larkin said the RFI is hoped to cast a wide net of interested companies to partner with. But such challenges as population density, the number of customers per miles of running the infrastructure, make it difficult.
“It is not being brought out to those communities for a reason. They are an underserved community for a reason,” Larkin said. MBI has shown the most progress when incentivizing existing cable companies to expand service. But there are still towns looking to run their own systems.
“When we are dealing with a cable operator who has experience and does this for a living, we have much more confidence,” Larkin said.
MBI had $50 million to work with when the process started. According to Deputy Director Edmund Donnelly, $41.7 million has been committed to projects but so far only $15.7 million has been spent. Should all of the projects in the pipeline now come to fruition, there would be about $8.2 million left to award grants.
Donnelly said it is too early to tell what the cost will be to connect the final eight towns.
But even as these towns consider their options, nearly all of the plans are still in flux and may not come to fruition.
“This is truly a work in progress,” Larkin said.
Xi’an, China, July 20, 2017 At the ninth Huawei User Group Meeting, Huawei released the FastReach solution, enabling operators to build valuable broadband networks and improve return on investment (ROI). This solution supports two core capabilities: fast network construction and fast operation. It effectively helps operators build networks rapidly and reduce site deployment costs by up to 70%. Additionally, operators can establish operation environments quickly, greatly increasing the installation rates of home broadband users and shortening the ROI period. Fast network construction greatly increases fiber to the x (FTTx) efficiency through innovative engineering, infrastructure synergy, and innovative O&M tools.
Fast network construction includes:
- Implementing deployment synergy for broadband networks and power facilities, realizing fast fiber routing.
- Deploying mini OLTs and wireless base stations in the same cabinet or site, enabling operators to reuse most infrastructure resources on live networks.
- Performing acceptance through smartphone apps (without meters), achieving intelligent, automatic, and fast acceptance for optical distribution networks (ODNs) and further improving network construction and deployment efficiency.
Fast operation supports three core components: mini operations support system (OSS), number provisioning map, and an app for integrated installation, maintenance, and operation. These components enable operators to rapidly develop capabilities for broadband service operation, perform targeted development of broadband users, and improve installation rates. A lightweight mini OSS for number provisioning can be deployed in as fast as three months, enabling operators to quickly provision numbers for broadband services. Additionally, number provisioning maps accurately display network resource information from different dimensions, including global position, regional position, and building dimensions, so operators can develop service packages and user development strategies based on bandwidth resources. The app for integrated installation, maintenance, and operation realizes business hall mobilization. Installation and maintenance personnel can promote different service packages for users during door-to-door installation and maintenance, and community promotion activities to seize more marketing opportunities, accelerating broadband user development.
Guo Dazheng, General Manager of Huawei’s Network SingleOSS Domain, said, “Emerging markets’ demands on broadband communication are far from being satisfied. The biggest obstacle hindering the development of emerging markets is excessively low broadband ROI. We believe that by supporting fast network construction and fast operation, Huawei’s FastReach solution can help operators develop their broadband user base rapidly and increase installation rates effectively. Therefore, operators are able to shorten ROI periods and construct valuable networks.”
Broadband networks are the foundations for a smart society. Huawei, a world-leading ultra broadband (UBB) network solution provider, is committed to providing innovative future-oriented solutions for operators in the long term. To date, Huawei has provided UBB access services for 500 million home users around the world.
In the future, Huawei will continue to work with global operators and industry partners to drive the sustainable development of the UBB industry and build a better connected world.
The Massachusetts Broadband Institute announced Wednesday that four additional towns in the western end of the state have opted for Charter Communications broadband. The towns of Egremont, Hancock, Peru and Tyringham have agreed to join the broadband internet program, provided by Charter Communications. Charter will receive a $4.4 million incentive from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to provide the towns with high-speed internet.
MBI says if a town opts for a private company, it doesn’t need to use tax dollars to build a network itself. Towns like Otis, Alford and Mount Washington have chosen to go that route – with assistance from the state. MBI says it has helped expand broadband in 46 of the 53 communities it listed as unserved in Central and Western Massachusetts.