Greenfield  speeds into broadband contract negotiations

  • The Greenfield Meeting House Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/30/2020 5:04:24 PM

Contract negotiations are underway for a broadband internet bond in Greenfield just five months after the town officially formed a broadband committee.

Committee member Tom Bascom credits the town’s dearth of current internet providers and a high survey response rate with its quick progress in finding the best option for municipal broadband, which the town is pursuing via the “Chesterfield model” of municipal bonding, which area towns Dublin and Rindge successfully completed following Chesterfield’s pioneer example in 2019.

On the current timeline, the town could be connected to fiber by the end of 2021, he said. “We can’t wait three years to get this done,” he said, with so many kids attending school remotely and adults working from home this year. “We should have started it three, ten years ago.”

The Broadband Committee enjoyed a 30 percent response rate to a townwide survey issued in July, Bascom said. “We learned all kinds of interesting things about just how terrible the internet in Greenfield is,” he said – although a couple residents reported they were happy with their service – and received good input from residents about their concerns, the program’s cost to the town and the potential for customer service improvements as compared to the status quo chief among them.

Currently, copper DSL internet from Consolidated Communications is the best service available to the town’s 700-odd households, Bascom said, and Consolidated is the only provider currently in town. “As you drive around, there’s lots of fiber up on the pole, but it’s not last-mile stuff,” he said. “Even in the middle of town, people’s DSL is terrible.”

A full 80 percent of households are classified as underserved for high speed internet, and that’s with Consolidated’s “very optimistic” projected speeds: Reported speeds are far slower, Bascom said, but the company was up front with data on the current level of service. “They know it’s bad, they’re not trying to cover it up," he said, to their credit.

About six households in town have installed commercial fiber internet at “extraordinarily expensive” rates for home businesses, he said.

Consolidated Communications submitted the best proposal out of three companies that responded to Greenfield’s RFP to provide broadband internet to every home in town, Bascom said. Matrix and Comcast also submitted proposals. Consolidated and Matrix both submitted proposals that would have no taxpayer impact, he said, a criteria that was especially important this year, with so much municipal income insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although Matrix proposed $775,000 to bond as compared to Consolidated’s $1.4 million, the company would have levied “fairly hefty” installation fees and required a minimum number of signups before they started work: $400 advance or $1,500 standard, Bascom said. Comcast proposed a bond just under $3 million. Given that the town’s biggest criteria were that the project have no taxpayer impact and can get done quickly, Consolidated’s proposal seemed to be the best for the town, and the Select Board agreed, he said.

Consolidated Communications also received the contract for municipal broadband in Dublin, Rindge, Mason, and Chesterfield, as previously reported.

Detailed information on the providers’ proposals can be found on the Greenfield Broadband Committee’s website. The committee hosts a call-in meeting almost every Tuesday night, and intends to start involving Consolidated reps on the calls in December, Bascom said. Residents are invited to attend to get their questions answered. Hearings and public meetings are next on the schedule, he said, in order to make the 2021 Town Meeting timeline. “We should be able to pull this off,” he said.

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