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Internet speed improvements for Sharon are expected (truly) in 2022

SHARON — Could 2022 be the year that Sharon residents finally get high-speed internet service? Recent developments provide reason for optimism, according to the Sharon Connect Task Force, whose members gave an update over Zoom on Wednesday, Dec. 8, to 28 virtual attendees.

Task Force Co-chair Jill Drew described how telecommunications engineers will be roaming streets and byways to map the utility poles of Sharon during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

This is a finishing step of a $30,000 pilot study, approved by the selectmen in June, exploring feasibility of creating a fiber optic network that would be owned by the town.

Sertex Broadband Solutions, a Plainfield, Conn., company, and Pike Telecom, a North Carolina construction firm, are expected to report on design requirements, estimated construction and connection costs, and projected uptake and annual operating/maintenance costs at a public meeting in January 2022.

Building a municipal fiber network would take several years and could be the most costly option for Sharon, Drew said, yet it would give the town true 1-gigabit per second download and upload capacity, as well as autonomy over pricing, levels of service, caps on data usage, and other factors now controlled by broadband corporations.

At the same time, attendees were told that Comcast and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection expect to hear a response in January to their joint application to the $268 million National Telecommunications and Information Administration grant fund.

If approved, their proposal would in 2022 underwrite a build-out of Comcast’s existing coaxial cable network to unserved residences and businesses, currently 240 homes and 27 miles of public roads — although data transmission speeds would be slower than what fiber networks typically provide.

Should the grant not come through, Comcast has floated the idea of a “cost-sharing” initiative through which town funds would subsidize connection in these hard-to-reach topographies.

Co-chair Meghan Flanagan described Comcast as showing new willingness to cooperate with and respond to Task Force inquiries, not only regarding network-building plans but also in addressing internet access problems faced by individuals.

Flanagan reminded attendees that the Task Force is eager to help anyone in town sort through internet options and to advocate on behalf of individuals dealing with broadband providers.

“Our job as a task force is not to advocate for any particular approach,” said Drew. “We are trying to research all the available options and present the pros and cons of each.”

Selectman Casey Flanagan praised the efforts of the all-volunteer task force and thanked them for their efforts over the past two years. “This has been a long time coming, and this actually feels real now.”

A video of the community update meeting can be viewed via the Task Force Web site, https://sharonconnect.org/

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