Middle of Nowhere might be a bit of a cruel way to describe Horncastle, a small and ancient market town in the Lincolnshire Wolds halfway between Lincoln and Skegness and a one hour drive to the nearest motorway.
The relocation of Saxilby Post Office into a a purpose-built space inside the Lincolnshire Co-op store in the High Street has been postponed until the right broadband can be installed. The Post Office was due to reopen on Friday, March 31 as part of a ?250,000 refit to the shop but technical issues mean it will now open in its new home on Wednesday, April 5. READ MORE: Co-op refit will create new home for village post office
Lincolnshire Co-op’s Post Offices Group Manager Wayne Dennett said: “We need a particular broadband connection to be able to connect into Post Office Ltd systems. “Unfortunately, due to issues outside of Lincolnshire Co-op’s control the timing of the installation of that key connection has been changed.
“We apologise to anyone in the village that will be inconvenienced by the additional two days without a post office service – but we look forward to welcoming people into the branch’s brand new home on Wednesday, April 5.
The team will be eager to see familiar faces and welcome new customers too.”
In January, a tech consultant from the broadband dead zone donned his pamphleteer’s cap. In nine fiercely argued pages, Stephen E. Harris went hard after a multi-million dollar question: Why was the Massachusetts Broadband Institute holding back money for design and engineering services — originally $18 million for all unserved towns, or 45 percent of MBI’s bond funding — from towns that want to build their own networks? A kind of Tom Paine for the 21st century, Harris put his argument into his study’s title. “Last Mile towns must control all of their broadband funds,” he called it. He shipped copies to area lawmakers and to many of the town broadband committees trying to close the digital divide. Weeks later, when MBI officials convened a community forum in Worthington last month, they heard a common refrain. Towns desperate for last-mile broadband connections, speaker after speaker said, ought to get all available money from the state, including the “professional services” allocation. Harris stood nodding in the back of Worthington’s Town Hall.
“I was taken aback that all the towns were asking for the professional services money,” Harris said later. His report wasn’t even a month old. Harris was even more surprised to learn the MBI has decided to provide that money as grants to towns, a policy shift announced at a Feb.
27 board meeting. “I feel good about it,” Harris said. “I’d like to think that my analysis … contributed to moving the whole discussion forward.
It’s high time that they gave the towns more flexibility and allowed them to use those funds as they see fit.” Carolyn Kirk, the state’s deputy secretary of housing and economic development, said Wednesday that the policy shift followed an analysis of comments at the Worthington forum. “We scrutinized what the feedback was,” she said. The takeaway, she said: “Go faster … (and) just give us our money.” GAME CHANGER In his home town of Middlefield, Harris has helped lead an effort to provide wireless broadband service. The policy change he pressed for could increase available funding to his town by $270,000. Harris’ analysis argued that towns in Berkshire County that showed initiative in addressing the broadband gap were being unfairly penalized. He calculated that Alford was missing out on $191,225 in funding and Otis was being deprived of $624,025 in professional services money.
The cost to another pioneer community, Mount Washington, was $220,000, Harris said. Why withhold so much money from a tiny community? Harris quoted from a MBI press release stating that Mount Washington “has chosen to design, construct, and operate their municipal ‘Fiber to the home project, foregoing professional services offered by the MBI.”
As he argued in his study, “Any ‘unspent’ last mile grant funds rightfully belong to last mile municipalities, not to the MBI.” Peter Larkin of Pittsfield, chairman of the MBI board, said in a phone interview with The Eagle that unserved towns that build their own broadband networks will be eligible to receive the original amounts earmarked for professional services. In Middlefield, adding the full professional services funding to the town’s separate construction grant from MBI will be a game-changer, Harris said in an interview. It would bring the total amount to $580,000. “That would be more than enough to roll out wireless for our entire town,” Harris said. The MBI board is expected to make the policy on additional grants official at its March 28 meeting in Westborough.
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