The Recorder: High-speed internet access expands in Bernardston, Northfield under new cable deal

The Recorder: High-speed internet access expands in Bernardston, Northfield under new cable deal

Posted: 01/16/2023 11:52:25 am

Modified: 01/16/2023 11:49:10

Nearly all homes in Northfield and Bernardston not previously covered by Comcast are getting coverage under a new 10-year license agreement that is about to be signed by all parties.

“When they came through western Massachusetts to improve cities with high-speed Internet, they didn’t fully expand into our city,” said Brian Keir, president of the Bernardston Selectboard.

Now, after three years of negotiations, about 50 of the 57 Bernardston residents who did not have broadband Internet access through Comcast will be able to connect. Keir explained that this is an estimate, because more houses continue to be built in rural areas of towns that may not be counted.

A handful of homes in Northfield were also added to the coverage area. Northfield is now 98-99% covered, according to Alex Meisner, a member of the Northfield Selectboard.

“Everyone today deserves the right to information, and high-speed Internet gives them that right,” Meisner said.

Keir explained that the infrastructure needed to provide coverage to these homes will cost approximately $750,000 to $1 million. The cost will be split between the two cities, Comcast and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute. Bernardston will pay $60,000 of the cost and Northfield will pay $13,500.

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute was started under the administration of Governor Charlie Baker. The technology collaboration works to provide high-speed broadband Internet access to every home in Massachusetts.

“This is a small investment knowing that it was going to be $1 million. We thought it was important that these homes have high-speed Internet access,” Keir continued.

Keir said the importance of broadband internet connection became apparent during the pandemic. “Students who didn’t have Internet access had problems,” he said.

He said schools provided hotspots to students in homes without connectivity, but he showed an obvious problem in their infrastructure.

The two towns retained a license agreement attorney to negotiate the 10-year license. According to Keir, they focused on expanding coverage in the negotiations.

New additions to Bernardston-Northfield Community Television (BNCTV) were also agreed to in the license. There will now be a high-definition channel for the station and an increase in the rates of the Public, Educational and Government Access Channels (PEG). The PEG rate increase, seen on people’s cable bills, will go to public access television stations, in this case BNCTV.

“We’re glad it’s a done deal,” Keir said. “It will be on the books for another 10 years.”

You can contact Bella Levavi at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com

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