I have had a number of inquiries about Comcast and what the status is on our getting cable service. The short answer is that the project appears to be a few months behind schedule. The chief delay is coming from Eversource.
As I have explained previously, this is a multi-step process involving a number of players. As you know, the town has agreed to a deal put together by the state via the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) to finance Comcast’s build out in Worthington.
Once those agreements were signed last fall, Comcast then did a pole survey, which meant literally looking at every utility pole in town, including ones that may be on your property leading to your home. With that information they were able to determine how they would design the network and what poles they needed to be on and what work would be necessary to make the poles ready for them to hang their cables on them.
The poles are almost all jointly owned by Eversource and Verizon. The general rule is that the electrical cables are always at the top of the pole and the telephone wires are at the bottom. There has to be sufficient room between the two for another cable to be able to be hung. Generally they need at least 18” clearance between all cables. There are several possible scenarios for each pole.
- There’s already room and not much work needs to be done
- The telephone cables just need to be moved down to make room
- There’s not enough room to just move the telephone cables down so a new, taller pole has to be put in
- Or the pole is simply substandard and needs to be replaced
The process is that Comcast makes application for space on the poles to Eversource and Verizon individually. The two utilities then come out and do their own pole surveys to determine what work they feel needs to be done. Once everyone has done their surveys, the utilities then present Comcast with the cost of the work that needs to be done and there’s a negotiation. For instance, they may disagree on who is responsible for pole replacement. If a pole needs to be replaced because it’s substandard, the utility pays for that work. If it just needs to be replaced because it isn’t sufficient size to allow for another cable, then Comcast pays the cost. As you can imagine, that alone can be a complicated process and we are in the midst of that stage right now.
I have been in touch with both Comcast and the MBI about the status of our build and this is where we’re at. Comcast applied to both utilities for space on 1,636 poles on 9 applications to each utility in January 2019. Verizon was pretty quick and completed their survey by February 20, 2019, and they are ready for what’s called “reconciliation.” Eversource has only completed their survey of 2 of their 9 applications. They were expected to have completed all their surveys by June 1. They are now saying: “that field review would be complete on or before July 22 and all design estimates issued to Comcast on or before August 30th.”
I have been advised that is an intentionally conservative estimate and it is possible they will be done sooner. Eversource contractors have been spotted in town doing pole survey work. Once they have completed their design estimates and are ready, then Comcast has the reconciliation or negotiation with both utilities. Once they agree on the cost, Comcast pays for the work and the make-ready work can begin. The question will of course then be whether they’ve got the crews available to do the work, as we are one of 30 or 40 towns in western Mass that are essentially looking to do the same thing. In many cases towns are building their own fiber networks and in some cases like ours there’s a cable build. But in all cases it starts with this work with the utilities to identify what works needs to be done to make room for the new cables and then do the actual make-ready work. Verizon, Eversource and in some towns National Grid only have so many crews and unfortunately we are near the end of the line.
I am in regular communication with Comcast and the MBI, who is helping to manage this process for all the effected towns and companies. The MBI is in turn communicating regularly to the Governor’s office, primarily through Lieutenant Governor Karen Polito, who is aware of the delay in Worthington and is trying to put pressure on the utilities, in this case Eversource. There are mandated deadlines for these things, but there are really no mandated penalties and not a whole lot we can do. Eversource has offered to send someone to speak to us at a Selectboard meeting and I will be taking them up on that offer. Nothing is scheduled yet.
I know that’s not a lot of good news, but the project is moving forward despite this delay and Comcast has signed a contract that requires them to have service to us by July 2020. Hopefully they’ll beat that deadline. I’ve been asked when Comcast will start contacting people about signing up for service. That won’t happen until the utilities have completed make-ready and Comcast is starting to string their own cable. So I’m sure that’s at least 6 months away depending on how this whole application and make-ready process goes with the utilities. Comcast has said that once they start running their cables, they will bring service to customers as they go. They won’t be waiting to build the whole system before they provide service. Of course that begs the question as to where they will start and we do not have that information yet.
I will continue to keep on top of this and provide further updates as I get them. Please feel free to contact me at anytime with questions or comments.
Worthington Selectboard Chair & Cable Liason