Royalston’s long wait for broadband nears end

  • Royalson's Selectboard met Tuesday to approve the start of negotiations with Toronto-based BLiNQ Networks to bring wireless broadband service to town.  In the foreground are Selectboard member Chris Long, Chair Deb D'Amico, member Roland Hamel, and in the rear, Becky Krause-Hardie and Broadband Committee member John Hardie. ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

For Athol Daily News
Published: 3/25/2020 4:26:25 PM
Modified: 3/25/2020 4:26:20 PM

ROYALSTON – Not even a pandemic was about to stop Royalston’s Selectboard from meeting to give the go-ahead for negotiations to get underway to bring wireless broadband service to town.

The effort to connect the town to high-speed internet has been a decade-long affair, and board members Tuesday night were anxious to move ahead with the final phase. The board’s vote gave the project operations manager, Westfield Gas & Electric, and the town’s Broadband Committee to enter into negotiations with BLiNQ Networks of Toronto, Canada to construct the wireless network.

While BLiNQ’s bid to undertake the project is $1.8 million, Broadband Committee Chair Andy West, participating via audio link, explained, “We put $1.15 million on the RFP (request for proposal) because we wanted to keep the vendor in a tight window. We wanted them to underbid in order to make room for cost overruns, should that happen. The actual budget for the project is $1.4 million, with $275,000 of that coming from the town of Royalston, and $1.125 million coming from the Baker-Polito administration.”

The money from the state is being administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

“The bid proposal came in at $1.8 million,” West continued, “but this is a preliminary proposal. We actually had other revisions that started out at $3 million and we worked with the vendor to make sure they understood the exact requirements, and we have gotten them to $1.8 million. We feel we are within the window by which we can modify this design to make it less expensive.”

West said one thing that hasn’t been determined is whether subscribers will be asked to pay for their own equipment – an approximately $230,000 consideration. If subscribers are asked to pay for the equipment when they sign up, he said, the overall cost of the project would be reduced by that amount.

Broadband Committee Vice Chair John Hardie said the initial phase of the project calls for 350 homes to be connected during the first year.

“The Royalston Broadband Committee will work together with Westfield Gas & Electric, and with the BLiNQ Network Team,” said Hardie, “to formalize all of the final build-out documentation, obtain all of the necessary regulatory approvals, and issue bid requests for construction contractors.”

“On behalf of the Select Board and the residents of Royalston,” said Selectboard Chair Deb D’Amico, “I would like to thank the Broadband Committee for the hundreds of hours they have put into this recommendation. I would also like to thank WG&E for all their work in facilitating this proposal. ”

The unanimous vote of the board to enter into negotiations with BLiNQ was followed by an enthusiastic round of applause by the few people in attendance.

”This has been a long road,” said D’Amico.

”This is a real celebration for us to be able to move, now, to the build out of the network,” Hardie concluded.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com

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