I’d like to update the town on our progress with Broadband since the Town Meeting vote last May. As you may recall, after failing to approve warrant articles for the necessary borrowing to build a fiber optic network, the meeting overwhelmingly approved a non-binding article to negotiate an agreement with Comcast to provide cable television, phone and internet service to at least 96% of the reachable residences and businesses in Worthington.
Following the town meeting, the Selectboard appointed Charley Rose to lead the negotiations with Comcast and also asked the three members of the Municipal Light Board, Joe Boudreau, John Dearie and Bart Niswonger, to serve as a cable advisory committee. The Committee had held meetings with Comcast with the goal of reaching an agreement and implementing service as soon as possible.
There are two parallel tracks for this process. Comcast is, of course, a Cable Television provider as well as a Broadband and Telephone service provider. Cable Television is subject to regulation by the state Department of Telecommunications (DTC). In order to provide television service to our town, Worthington has to reach what’s called a Franchise Agreement with Comcast and both of us need to follow steps proscribed by the DTC.
Internet service, on the other hand, is not regulated. In theory anyone can offer to provide service to all or part of Worthington and no agreement with the town or state is necessary to do that. Of course, the reality is that we don’t have the population density to make that a worthwhile investment. That’s where the state came in and agreed to provide a subsidy for the construction of the network, which includes a subsidy from the town as well. While there is no regulation of internet service per se, in order to receive the state and town subsidies, Comcast and the State of Massachusetts, via the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), will be signing a 15-year agreement that guarantees broadband service to at least 96% of reachable premises in Worthington. We expect that agreement to be signed this week.
In our meetings with Comcast here in Worthington, we have pretty much agreed on language for a Franchise Agreement, which will most likely be signed in September after a Public Hearing. In the meantime, the good news is that there’s work going on already. You may have seen a Comcast vehicle on the road here in Worthington in the last month or so. That person is working on a pole survey. They are literally looking at every telephone pole in order to determine what, if any, work will need to be done to put Comcast’s wires on the poles and to provide Comcast the necessary data to design a network that will reach 96% or better of the town. Please note that they will also be examining the utility poles on your property which currently bring electricity and/or phone service to your home. Again, this is to give Comcast sufficient data to design a network that includes what will be necessary to actually bring service to your home or business.
Once Comcast has developed a preliminary network design, the Selectboard and Cable Advisory Committee will meet with Comcast representatives in what’s called a reconciliation meeting. In that meeting we’ll be presented with their proposed design and have a chance to offer input, such as suggested route changes. If there are residences that are not going to be reached by the design, we will also be given a cost to extend service to those premises. That meeting should take place in September.
Assuming we reach agreement, we will then schedule the public hearing on the Franchise Agreement and, following that and barring any disagreements, sign the Franchise Agreement.
The next step is for the pole owners, Verizon and Eversource, to come to agreement with Comcast on the work that needs to be done and for them to do that work. That’s what’s called make-ready. As the name implies, it involves making room on the poles for Comcast to hang its cables. The timeline for that is approximately six months, but is hard to predict. Remember, the utilities are engaged in similar work across western Mass right now.
Once the make-ready work is done, Comcast will start stringing cable and hooking people up. Of course, before that happens, they’ll be here in town marketing their services. Those of us with unique situations like buried cables, long driveways etc., will have the opportunity to meet with Comcast and have those needs addressed. None of that is likely to happen much before next Spring. An optimistic scenario would see service starting to roll out in late Spring for Summer of 2019. So there is no need to get in touch with Comcast at this time or to sign-up in advance for anything. Unlike some other towns where they are building their own networks and asking for people to put down a deposit ahead of time, Comcast does not plan to do that. We will essentially be signing up for service as it becomes available and it will be widely publicized.
That all being said, we will do our best to keep you updated on the process. Please feel free to contact myself, the Selectboard and/or the Cable Advisory Committee with questions, comments or concerns.
Selectboard Chair & Cable Liaison
You can also reach the Cable Advisory Committee and Selectboard at email@example.com