Broadband company drops effort to serve Sandisfield, Tolland

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SANDISFIELD — Broadband hopes for two unserved communities have been dashed anew.

Frontier Communications has backed out of negotiations to build and run a fiber-optic network that would bring solid, high-speed internet service to Sandisfield and Tolland.

The move comes about three months after New Marlborough split off from the group negotiations, citing concerns over upfront costs.

"Frontier determined that without New Marlborough included in what had been proposed as a three-town regional build, a strong enough business case could not be salvaged for just the two remaining towns," said Jeff Bye, chairman of Sandisfield's broadband committee. "So back to the drawing board."

Bye said he would talk to the committee and find out, with help from the state, what the other options are.

"Maybe the landscape has changed a little, but I don't have a path to be on yet," he said on Wednesday.

The news comes as towns in this rural area in southwestern Massachusetts move forward with a variety of solutions, and help from the state, on a quest for high internet speeds now considered a basic need for economic growth and stability.

New Marlborough, which promised over 1,000 customers, left the three-town negotiating committee on Nov. 30. Officials cited the $6.4 million Frontier wanted upfront in order to reduce the company's risk in providing service over many road miles and few customers. Monterey had earlier left the group for a number of reasons.

The departures left Sandisfield and Tolland, the two least-populous, high road-mile towns. Sandisfield would bring about 650 customers to the table; Tolland, just over 500, Bye said.

The Sandisfield committee had been in a holding pattern since fall, waiting to see what Frontier would do in the wake of New Marlborough's withdrawal. Bye said he had no idea whether the town would keep collaborating with Tolland.

"It's all so new," he said, noting that he'll be talking to Massachusetts Broadband Institute officials this week about options. "Sandisfield has a great working relationship with MBI, so I hope that will mean something."

The MBI oversees funding for broadband efforts — a pot of money allocated to towns that don't yet have access. Sandisfield's total share of that money is $1.2 million.

Bye said he would want to learn more about the MBI's new Flexible Grant Program, for which several companies have made offers to provide service to 14 remaining towns without it.

Both Crocker Communications, and Westfield Gas & Electric/Whip City Fiber are possible options for Sandisfield.

"We're going to have to circle back, unfortunately to where we were a year-and-a-half ago," Bye said.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter at @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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