So what is the latest status regarding making broadband Internet service available to the housing units and businesses in Sandisfield? The town continues to make progress together with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) and Crocker Communications (of Springfield, MA), per the process established for the state's Flexible Grant Program. On October 15 the Board of Selectmen approved and signed the action plan developed by MBI for the project proposed by Crocker Communications. The action plan was fully executed on November 20 when the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC) signed. Crocker Communications had signed the action plan on November 13. On December 4 representatives from the town, MBI, and Crocker Communications met at Crocker's office in Springfield to review the action plan, and to discuss and plan the next steps to take.
Per the signed action plan the town will next engage with Crocker Communications in a detailed due diligence process that will identify, address, and resolve the full range of technical, business, and any legal issues associated with what Crocker Communications has proposed under the Flexible Grant Program. MBI will be providing the town a $25,000 Professional Services Grant for the town to procure technical and legal support services as necessary. The due diligence process will culminate, if successful, in a comprehensive broadband Internet services agreement between the town and Crocker Communications with regard to the provision of broadband Internet services for the town over a period of at least 10 years. The action plan provides a comprehensive list of MTC/MBI service agreement expectations that will have to be met.
In addition to providing the town with the Professional Services Grant, MTC/MBI will be publicly posting a summary of the proposed project for the town per the process established for the Flexible Grant Program. The posting will provide a general summary of the proposed service offering, coverage percentage, roll-out timeline, and the sources and amounts of funding required to deliver the proposed service offering. The public posting will be maintained and updated, as needed, until a final decision is made by MTC/MBI for the town and Crocker Communications to proceed. The posting will serve to fulfill basic requirements of good procurement practice and afford other service providers the opportunity to come forward and propose a comparable or more advantageous solution for the town under the Flexible Grant Program. The Board of Selectmen will have the opportunity to select a more advantageous solution for the town (as compared to the solution proposed by Crocker Communications), should one be proposed in response to the public posting.
What are the other next steps in the process for Crocker Communications? Recall that in addition to the Last Mile grant ($1,230,000) from the state for Sandisfield that a service provider is eligible to receive under the Flexible Grant Program, Crocker Communications will be attempting to secure all the funding it will need for the project from both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) via the Connect America Fund II auction, and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) via The Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program. Crocker Communications participated in the FCC's Connect America Fund II auction that was held last summer. The FCC has informed Crocker that they were successful with their auction bid for Sandisfield and will be receiving $66,387 annually for 10 years. In order to secure these funds for the project Crocker will need to complete some steps required by the FCC. It is anticipated that the earliest release of the FCC funds will be at the end of the first quarter of 2019. Once these funds are made available Crocker plans to use them to help fund capital expenses during the project start-up (make-ready work), and then apply them to the network operational expenses once the network has been constructed and becomes operational. Over the next few months Crocker will be participating in the new USDA broadband access funding program in an attempt to secure the additional funds needed for network construction. Crocker is expecting to understand the project funding picture much better by the end of the first quarter of 2019.
In the event Crocker Communications is unsuccessful in securing all the funds from the USDA needed to design and construct a broadband Internet network that will pass 96% of the housing units and businesses on public roads in Sandisfield, the Board of Selectmen, by signing the version of the project action plan now signed by all parties, has agreed to contribute town funds to this project as necessary. At this point in time "as necessary" is undefined. The Board of Selectmen will have a complete and better understanding of the project funding situation once Crocker Communications determines the level of funding USDA is going to make available for the project. As mentioned above Crocker Communications is expecting to understand the project funding picture soon.
This report will be updated as new information becomes available. Stay tuned..