Otis awaits bods for broadband buildout

OTIS — This Berkshires town remains at the head of the pack pursuing broadband internet. The first miles of fiber-optic cable may go up on utility poles this fall.

“We just keep pushing,” said Larry Gould, chairman for the town’s Technology Committee. The state this week expanded its promised grant to Otis, adding more than $550,000 to an earlier construction allotment. In a policy change this year, the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development is now freeing up money to rural towns that plan to build their own broadband networks. On May 6, the state granted $220,000 to Mount Washington and $830,000 to Windsor for their projects. In all, 19 Berkshire towns were listed a year ago as unserved. Other state grants are expected as Boston pursues a multipronged attack on the digital divide that includes payments to private companies to expand their networks. In Otis, members of the town’s Technology Committee are awaiting responses to their request for construction proposals. Gould said his panel hopes to shave costs off what’s estimated to be a project topping $5 million.

The cost is pushed by the high number of premises in Otis and its size. The town’s planned fiber-to-the-home system will run along 80 road miles and seek to connect 1,687 premises, according to April figures supplied by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute. Gould said the town is waiting for cost estimates from Verizon and Eversource on the “make ready” work that will allow use of utility poles. Bids are due in early June from construction firms. Though it is partnering with Westfield Gas + Electric, the town will oversee construction, Gould said. As construction progresses, individual neighborhoods will be “lit” for broadband service. That could begin this fall, Gould said. The town is still working to determine how the Woodlands neighborhood will be served. That area straddles the Otis-Sandisfield line, with about one-third of the premises in Otis, Gould said.

“We still fully intend to include the Otis residents in the Woodlands,” Gould said. But if Sandisfield shapes a plan with its broadband partner to provide service there, that community may take the lead. One issue is that utility lines are underground in the Woodlands, complicating the matter of stringing cable.

Gould said he is hopeful that the number of unserved towns building their own networks will grow. If they also form partnerships with Westfield Gas + Electric’s Whip City Fiber unit, that will bring down costs across the region. “It’s a win-win for everyone,” he said. Otis and the Westfield utility are working under a public-public partnership that may become a model across the region. As “municipal light plants” under state law, neither party seeks to make a profit. Other towns receiving state broadband grants this week included Cummington in Hampshire County and Charlemont, Colrain, Heath, New Salem and Rowe in Franklin County. The Cummington grant was valued at $840,000. Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass. If you’d like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please

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