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Sharon plans Aug. 15 info session

Comcast broadband proposal

SHARON — Following years of effort by the town’s broadband task force to find a way to provide internet access for every home and business, the Board of Selectmen considered a recent proposal from Comcast at its regular meeting on Tuesday, July 26.

The selectmen agreed that the Broadband Task Force could schedule a public information hearing to be held on Monday, August 15, beginning at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.

If town residents are in support of the proposal, then the task force would return to the selectmen to being the process of devising a way to fund the project. The project would then go on to the Board of Finance for review and eventually, a Town Meeting would be called for voters to decide.

Under the proposal, Comcast would partner with the town to provide high-speed cable to underserved homes, thereby ensuring that every home and business has access to internet service.

“We’ve come a long way and we are close to a solution,” First Selectman Brent Colley said, recalling that the town had researched a $12 million option to separate from Comcast and to become an independent broadband utility. Comcast has proposed a $1.6 million plan to extend its services to underserved roads and to those roads served by other companies.

Broadband Task Force co-chair Jill Drew reported that there are 27 miles of town road and private road to be covered, amounting to 234 households. The cable would be laid underground in places. Under the agreement Comcast would extend the cable all the way from the road to the homes, not just to nearby poles.

“I believe this is the most important decision the town can make for its future over the next 20 years,” Drew said, describing the obvious far-reaching benefits for residents and the town. She noted the results of a 2019 survey drawing 550 responses from residents, 70% of whom supported the idea of expanded internet access and an additional 25% responded “maybe.”

The town funded the cost of the survey and the preliminary engineering study to assess the costs should the town decide to form its own utility.

“There is a lot of support for this idea,” Drew said.

“This is a lifeline for a lot of people,” task force co-chair Meghan Flanagan said, indicating that Frontier, the other internet provider for the town, had not responded to calls.

Comcast stepped forward and negotiated a solution with the town for the $1.6 million cost, estimating that the work could be completed within six months from the date that the application for pole installation was approved. Under the proposal, if the town pays the $1.6 million, Comcast will pay the remainder of the cost for the project.

Drew said that she considers it a shovel-ready project, asking the selectmen to schedule the informational meeting leading to a potential town decision by early September.

Discussing fiber optic options, Flanagan said that if the broadband gap can be solved in six months, then the town will be covered with internet access.

“That doesn’t mean that in the future, we can’t pursue other alternatives, including fiber, as they arise,” he said.

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