A dispute in Massachusetts illustrates the challenges that decision makers face in determining the best option for bringing service to underserved broadband areas. In this case decision makers must weigh a range of factors in determining whether Comcast or competitive network operator Matrix Design Group should be awarded funding to help cover some of the costs of deploying broadband to unserved portions of the small non-contiguous towns of Hardwick and Montague.
Underserved Broadband Areas
The state of Massachusetts has made a grant of five million dollars available to bring service to underserved broadband areas in 10 towns where Comcast already reaches some but not all residents with broadband over coax, reports local media outlet MassLive. Comcast was the only bidder for the grant in seven of the towns and agreed to bring service to an eighth without support. But Matrix bid against Comcast in Hardwick and Montague. Matrix offered to deploy fiber-to-the-home and to pass a greater number of homes in comparison with what Comcast proposed.
But although the Matrix proposal was popular with local residents, the state’s telecommunications and cable commissioner issued a recommendation recently arguing that Comcast would “provide the best value,” MassLive notes. The commissioner expressed concern that the Matrix Design Group proposal would put taxpayer dollars at risk because Matrix was inexperienced and the plan was financially shaky.
The commissioner noted that although Matrix’s fiber infrastructure initially would provide higher speeds than Comcast’s network would provide, Comcast’s 150 Mbps service was “industry standard.” She also noted that the cable company had stated that in the future it would support speeds over 1 Gbps.
With regard to the smaller number of homes Comcast proposed supporting, the commissioner reportedly said “if a network is not sustainable and fails, it will not provide service to any homes.”
A representative of the Montague Broadband Committee argued, however, that Comcast’s proposal does not meet a grant condition stating that recipients must reach at least 96% of homes.
As the nation grapples with how to bring service to underserved broadband areas, other decision makers also are likely to be presented with choosing between a more ambitious proposal from a less experienced network operator and a less ambitious proposal from an established player. Clearly getting the decision criteria and benchmarks right will be critical to reaching the most people with the best solution.