EGREMONT — The Egremont Select Board said Monday it will begin negotiations with Charter Communications to build and operate a broadband network here, but did not rule out the possibility of working with Fiber Connect, which has already begun to wire the town.
The board’s unanimous vote came after a recommendation by the majority of the town’s eight-person Technology Committee, which board Chairman Charles Flynn said spent several years and many long hours coming up with a solution to bring high-speed internet to residents. Egremont, population 1,225, is one of many rural towns in the region working to stay current in the fast-changing era of high connectivity. Broadband access is considered one of the top barriers to economic development and sustainability in Berkshire County. The board added a provision to its vote that Charter connect the whole town, not just the 96 percent of households it proposed. Charter recently pitched its services to a handful of towns, including Monterey, which rejected its proposal saying residents want a full fiber optic network — for the highest speeds — rather than Charter’s hybrid of cable and fiber technology. Technology Committee member Jonathan Taylor stood up and told the full house that the committee would have preferred a pure fiber network over a hybrid, but the cost to households was a big consideration.
“The issue was affording the service,” Taylor said, noting that it was only one factor in the committee’s decision making. Charter is offering choices of different internet speeds and packages from around $60 to $120 per household. And with state grant money in play, the Charter build out would come at no cost to the town. The committee, which Flynn also chairs, had eliminated Matrix from consideration because it had not entered the Massachusetts Broadband Institute’s qualification process, and because the company had had a tangle with the agency over its previous work on Leverett’s system, Flynn said. Fiber Connect was strong in the running, but last week the company was disqualified from receiving grant money from the MBI for lack of a financial track record. Of the MBI’s $40 million in “last mile” broadband grants intended to bring higher speeds to the rest of the state, Egremont’s share is roughly $1 million.
Without that money going to Fiber Connect, the town would be on the hook for part of the fiber system build out. But there’s a chance the town may end up with full fiber, anyway. Fiber Connect’s Adam Chait told the board he is still in the make-ready phase of stringing fiber — at his company’s expense — that would reach 70 percent of the town’s households and businesses. Chait later told The Eagle that it is far from a done deal between the town and Charter, and he restated his commitment to completing the build out, and providing a service that would cost $99 per household, or $149 for businesses. Chait also said efforts were underway for other grants and “neighbor-to-neighbor” funding that would help low-income households afford his service. “What we’re delivering is state of the art, and what the majority of people wants,” Chait said. Perhaps that’s why Select Board member Mary Brazie said there’s been some broadband drama, with swirling rumors that the board’s decision to go with Charter will prompt Fiber Connect to leave. Chait reassured everyone it wasn’t true. “I find it appalling that people lie about that,” Brazie said. “I want to be clear: We are all welcoming Fiber Connect into town with open arms.”
Brazie said she had an idea that she wasn’t sure was possible; that once Fiber Connect has wired 70 percent of the town, that the town borrow to get the other 30 percent done. She said the town in 2015 had approved borrowing up to $2.94 million for a broadband network. “This gives the town two options,” she said.
Flynn told Chait the town is still willing to work with him. And Taylor said the committee’s main concerns were Fiber Connect’s lack of a financial track record and the loss of state money. “It’s too risky,” he said. Then Flynn brought up timing, since Egremont — like so many towns — is growing impatient for higher speeds. With Charter, the town is looking at having service in three years. But he said maybe there was a way to speed this up.
“I think if we negotiate with the MBI we’ll see broadband in town far sooner,” he said. Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871. If you’d like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please
Pure fibre network builder CityFibre is to begin work on a 48km network backbone build in Slough and Maidenhead, having already successfully completed a major project in the nearby towns of Bracknell and Reading.
When completed, the network will cover 38km to link Slough’s globally renowned Trading Estate to its town centre, alongside a further 10km in Maidenhead, will offer area businesses broadband connections of up to a gigabit. According to the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), boosting ultrafast connectivity in the area could generate an additional ?1.2bn GVA for the region between now and 2024 by increasing potential for competitiveness, productivity and growth as more business is conducted online. “Berkshire is known as an economic powerhouse, and Slough in particular – a renowned hub for blue-chip businesses and start-ups – has grown its reputation as one of the UK’s most tech-savvy towns in the region,” said Nick Gray, CityFibre city development manager.
“From the latest Tech Nation Report, we know the digital technology industry contributes billions to the UK economy, creates high-value jobs and attracts investment from all over the world. “This presents excellent opportunities for Thames Valley communities. It is vitally important, therefore, that this growing region has the best connectivity possible to enable it to remain competitive on a global stage.”
Connections to the new network in Slough and Maidenhead will be sold through local internet service provider (ISP) BTL Communications, which also works in Bracknell and Reading. Managing director Rob Lamden said: “We have been helping businesses in the region with their IT, telecoms and internet connectivity since 2001, and we are very pleased to be working with CityFibre to make a real difference to the region’s digital landscape. “Having grown up in Maidenhead and Slough from the age of nine, I am particularly motivated to bring the gigabit revolution to the towns I grew up in.
“We are now able to offer local businesses next-generation internet services at highly competitive prices that will turbocharge their capabilities and give them a huge head start over the competition,” he said. “And of course BTL will be alongside them to support their growth and to help them take full advantage.”