'A new day in Sandisfield' with Charter broadband contract signed
SANDISFIELD — After nearly a decade of navigating a difficult path to a broadband network, it is now likely that the town will see high internet speeds in less than two years.
At its Monday meeting, the three-member Select Board voted unanimously to sign off on an agreement with Charter Communications to build and operate a network that will cover 96 percent of homes and businesses.
"It's a new day in Sandisfield," said Jeffrey Bye, chairman of the town's Broadband Committee.
Bye said that a Charter official told the board that a company representative might be in town as early as next week to meet with the police chief, and begin to plan utility pole surveys. This "make-ready" work will determine the integrity of the poles for attaching broadband wires and whether poles need replacing.
That work is in concert with National Grid, and will depend on the utility company's time frame, Bye said.
Sandisfield is one of the last remaining towns in Western Massachusetts that, until now, did not have a plan for a network. But broadband is expensive for rural towns struggling with budgets. And in this case, a new grant from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute helped close 40 percent of the funding gap between Sandisfield's $1.23 allotment from the MBI and the $2.6 million required by Charter for the project. The rest, $827,000 plus interest over a 10- or 15-year period, will be deducted from the town's state aid.
After plans with other companies fell through in the past five years, Charter's proposal still met with controversy, partly because it was unclear whether the company would install fiber-optic technology rather than a hybrid of fiber and traditional cables. But Bye said the company would install fiber, which is considered the most sustainable technology for future upgrades. Charter officials also indicated that this is the case.
Neighboring New Marlborough entered a similar contract with Charter and the state this year, and make-ready work there is underway and likely will be ready by February, according to town officials.
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.
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