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Bringing broadband to Leyden could cost $750K more than anticipated

LEYDEN — The Broadband Committee recently received the results of Massachusetts Broadband Institute’s state-funded pole survey of the town’s 917 utility poles, and the results could throw a curve ball at the town’s broadband plans. When originally estimating the cost of bringing broadband to Leyden, Broadband Committee Chairman Bob Ryan said MBI assumed a 4 percent pole replacement rate, or 33 poles. However, the study by MBI’s selected vendor, Osmose Utilities Services, found 336 poles — or 36 percent — were categorized as needing replacement, a finding that could cost Leyden an additional £750,000.

“(The town was) amazed and surprised by the number of deficient poles,” Ryan said. Ryan explained many of the poles are considered too short to carry an additional wire, too thin to support the additional weight or are simply defective and in clear need of replacement. The utility poles would cost an estimated £2,500 each to replace, Ryan said, quickly adding money onto the £1,750,000 Leyden’s broadband network was expected to cost.

Of the £1,750,000, MBI will pay £680,000 and Leyden will pay £1,070,000. Ryan said the cost to make the utility poles ready is “the biggest variable in any broadband system.” Still, he said, an additional £750,000 is the worst case scenario, assuming Verizon would need to replace every utility pole, and they couldn’t be modified to fit Leyden’s needs. Where that extra money would come from is unclear.

“We’d have to decide: Will we go back to the town or ask the state for help?” Ryan said. The Broadband Committee and Selectboard have already made state Reps. Paul Mark and Stephen Kulik aware of Leyden’s problem.

For now, the Broadband Committee is waiting to hear from representatives at Crocker Communications, which was interested in building the broadband system, about whether the company would be moving forward with the project. Ryan suspects to have a definitive answer within about a week. If the answer is “no,” Ryan said the town would use Westfield Gas & Electric as its internet service provider, signing a contract with the company by the end of this month.

Westfield Gas & Electric would act as the project manager, subcontracting out construction, and would be responsible for collecting bills and having someone service the broadband system once it’s constructed. Ryan is hopeful that once the town has a project manager to represent it in the pole negotiation process, more concrete figures will emerge showing not all of the 336 utility poles will need to be replaced. “We can’t sort anything out until we know the extent of the problem,” he said.

Should the town move forward with Westfield Gas & Electric, Ryan said the broadband network is expected to be complete by July 4, 2018. You can reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

413-772-0261 ext.

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