Charter Communications plans to build network in Warwick, Royalston

  • A digital map of Warwick from the Federal Communications Commission website. Screenshot

  • A rendering of houses in Warwick that would not be served by the Charter Communications’ broadband network, as seen on the Federal Communications Commission website. Charter would reportedly have to build its network to serve up to 96 percent of Warwick and Royalston. Screenshot

Staff Writer
Published: 5/12/2021 1:48:14 PM
Modified: 5/12/2021 8:16:10 PM

WARWICK — The Selectboard is expected to hear a draft agreement from Charter Communications to build its own broadband network in Warwick, following a Federal Communications Commission reverse auction.

Town Coordinator David Young said he “welcomes the competition” of another internet service provider, as Warwick already provides broadband service through a town-owned network. He also noted the town has been speaking with AT&T to “overbuild” on the town’s broadband system to help connect hard-to-reach customers.

The Selectboard heard about the reverse auction deal with Charter Communications during its meeting Monday. Young said the company bid $6.5 million to construct a fiber-optic broadband network in Warwick and Royalston.

During the Warwick Broadband Committee’s April 27 meeting, Massachusetts Broadband Institute members and Young discussed Charter Communications’ reverse auction bid, which is sponsored and subsidized by the Federal Communications Commission. Charter Communications would reportedly have to build its network to serve up to 96 percent of Warwick and Royalston.

“With any luck, people in our town are going to have options,” Young said of the different broadband services. “And I think that’s a really good thing for people, and for the future of our community.”

The project would take up to two years from contracting to completion. Prices will have to be competitive with those within 100 miles of Warwick, and the services would be guaranteed for 10 years, then negotiated afterward.

Young said the Massachusetts Broadband Institute will assist the Selectboard in finalizing the cable franchise agreement between the communications company and the town. Young said he “half-jokingly” asked about getting “Royalston and Warwick TV.”

“The answer is yes, but it’s not a free lunch,” he explained during Monday’s Selectboard meeting. “If we want to build into the rate an added charge to support community television, it is possible.”

The Charter Communications network would be built at no cost to the town. The town’s only role, Young said, is to license the company to operate. This project will see a roughly $6.5 million subsidy to Charter Communications for the project in the towns of Warwick and Royalston, and may build out the two town networks simultaneously.

“I think the future looks bright for connectivity here,” Young said Monday.

The Royalston Selectboard voted last month to disband its Broadband Committee after 10 years of work to construct a town-owned network, instead agreeing to have Charter Communications construct the fiber-optic broadband network.

While Royalston terminated its wireless project to wait for Charter Communications’ buildout, Young said the Massachusetts Broadband Institute fully supports the town continuing to run the Warwick Broadband network. Young said he could envision Warwick Broadband working with Charter Communications to cover the last few percent of households that would not be included by Charter’s network “so that everyone can have decent internet.”

While Selectboard member Todd Dexter voiced concern that the town “might be left out to dry at some point,” Massachusetts Broadband Institute employee Michael Baldino said Charter is making a binding legal commitment under the agreement with the Federal Communications Commission to build and run the network for 10 years. Charter would be responsible for repairs, following the power company, after storm damage occurs.

Young said pricing for the Charter Communications network is expected to be between $60 and $70 a month, with pricing for low-income residents available for around $30 a month. The Warwick Broadband cost is currently $30 a month for basic services and $50 for a full service plan.

When asked by Baldino if Warwick Broadband would be able to operate with fewer customers should they opt to change providers, Young said those with good service from the Warwick Broadband system would likely stay with the service. Currently, Young said Warwick Broadband serves 284 customers as well as six town buildings.

According to Massachusetts Broadband Institute Board Chair and former state Sen. Peter Larkin, who spoke during the April 27 meeting, “the process will be fairly slow.” Larkin said Warwick is lucky to have its existing service, and that those involved with the project are trying to speed up the process for Royalston’s network buildout as much as possible.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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