HOLYOKE — Today, the Baker-Polito Administration celebrated the completion of Make Ready work, a four-year, coordinated effort to remove the largest obstacle to extending broadband access across 53 “Last Mile” communities in Western and Central Massachusetts. During a roundtable event hosted at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) in Holyoke, Governor Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, and Undersecretary of Community Development Ashley Stolba commemorated the milestone with executives from the utility companies, service providers, and construction contractors who comprised the Make Ready Working Group responsible for delivering high-speed internet access to the doorsteps of 28,000 households in these towns.
Formed in February 2018 and led by Lt. Governor Polito, the Make Ready Working Group achieved unprecedented coordination of the activities required to make space on utility poles in advance of the construction of broadband networks. Through regular meetings, new practices and protocols, and meticulous tracking of progress, the group was able to accelerate the Make Ready work that ultimately impacted approximately 40,000 utility poles, allowing for the installation of 2,000 miles of fiber optic cable across all 53 Last Mile towns. As of today, 40 Last Mile towns have fully operational broadband networks, 10 previously unserved towns have networks that are partially operational, with the three remaining unserved communities in various stages of design or construction.
“As a result of the important work done by the entire Make Ready Group’s membership, who met weekly and more over the past four years, the last of the Commonwealth’s communities that still remain unserved by broadband are a major step closer becoming connected,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Thanks to this group’s efforts, 53 previously underserved municipalities will have access to essential broadband services and we are grateful for this important collaboration.”
“Congratulations to the members of the Make Ready Working Group for your commitment to an unprecedented degree of coordination over the last four years,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “Because of your work, we’ve successfully overcome the largest challenge to extending broadband to our final ‘Last Mile’ communities in our goal of closing the digital divide.”
The membership of the Make Ready Working Group included: Eversource, National Grid, Verizon, Westfield Gas and Electric, Comcast, Charter, ITG, Sertex, MassDOT, the Department of Telecommunications and Cable, the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI).
Throughout the four-year period, the Working Group continuously tracked and pressed for the acceleration of Make Ready work with a focus on eliminating roadblocks where fiber construction crews were actively building new network. To track progress, a complex integrated schedule, created and managed by the MBI, became the primary tool to coordinate efforts and resources.
New tactics and protocols were also implemented, with utilities being asked to “swarm” crews into high-priority towns to complete Make Ready work. As coordination increased, fiber construction crews were eventually fully synchronized such that construction could start in a particular neighborhood immediately upon the completion of Make Ready in that section of a town. Prior to this approach, standing practice was to hold off on construction until Make Ready work was completed for the entire town.
“The success of the Make Ready Working Group will serve as a new model for how we can work together to tackle complicated challenges associated with upgrading and extending modern-day infrastructure that is a necessity in today’s world,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. “As the pandemic demonstrated, internet connectivity is more vital than ever, and this work will ensure that no one region remains at a disadvantage as we continue along the path of economic recovery.”
“I want to congratulate the Make Ready Working Group for their extraordinary efforts to ensure broadband coverage will soon complete its reach across the entire Commonwealth,” said Undersecretary of Community Development Ashley Stolba. “In this day and age, high-speed internet is a vital component of how communities function and businesses operate, and thanks to this group’s commitment, we were able to save a significant amount of time and accelerate progress toward the goal of making sure access is universal.”
“The importance of the Make Ready Working Group in helping bridge the divide between the digital haves and have-nots cannot be understated,” said Department of Telecommunications and Cable Commissioner Karen Charles Peterson. “Massachusetts has been consistently looked at as a leader in removing barriers to accelerate the deployment of high-speed internet access and the Working Group is another important example of how we continue to do this by working collaboratively.”
“Westfield Gas + Electric appreciates the efforts of the Baker-Polito Administration in unifying this diverse group of utilities,” said Tom Flaherty, Sr., General Manager of Westfield Gas + Electric. “Together we were able to streamline the complex work schedule of the last four years, bringing critical broadband access to many Western Massachusetts communities on a relatively short timeline.”
“We commend the Baker-Polito Administration’s willingness to understand and prioritize make-ready work, which may not be glamorous, but is essential to providers’ ability to timely reach and connect unserved families, and can help shave years off of the timeline for doing so,” said Camille Joseph, GVP, State Government Affairs, Charter Communications. “This effort is already paying great dividends for the Commonwealth’s efforts to close the internet access gap, including through deployment of Charter’s gigabit connectivity to the unserved towns of Princeton, Hancock, New Marlborough, Peru, Sandisfield, Tyringham, Hinsdale, Lanesborough, and West Stockbridge.”
“From the beginning of this program, Comcast has been a dedicated partner to Governor Baker, Lieutenant Governor Polito and the entire MBI team in their effort to connect residents and businesses in 13 rural communities of western Massachusetts to Comcast’s fast, secure and reliable fiber-rich network that offers a range of broadband speeds, including multi-gigabit services,” said Daniel Glanville, Vice President of Government Affairs and Community Impact for Comcast's Western New England Region. “We are proud of our partnership and remain committed to continuously investing in and evolving our network to stay ahead of customer needs now and into the future.”
“National Grid is proud to support the vital work of bringing broadband access to the cities and towns of Western and Central Massachusetts alongside the Baker-Polito Administration,” said Steve Woerner, New England President, National Grid US. “We will continue to assist our communities across the Commonwealth, building on the impressive work to date of the many dedicated individuals involved in providing this critical infrastructure to residents and businesses.”
“We’re proud of the hard work, skill, and dedication it took from all stakeholders to coordinate and complete such an important construction project at this scale,” said Eversource Vice President of Electric Field Operations Bill Ritchie. “Working through the pandemic and some of the toughest terrain in Massachusetts, this public-private partnership accomplished an essential step in ensuring that underserved communities have access to this critical service. In particular, it took diligent cooperation between our employees and Verizon to transfer or shift our infrastructure to make room on the pole to facilitate fiber attachments.”
“Sertex Broadband is proud to be a part of closing the digital divide in Central and Western Massachusetts,” said Michael Solitro, Sertex founder and CEO. “Over the last six years, our crews have crossed rivers, climbed mountains, and dragged cable through forests and woodlands in all weather to make lightspeed internet access a reality for more than 12,000 residents and businesses.”
"It has been an honor to collaborate with MBI, Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and members of the Make Ready Working Group to complete this portion of the ‘Last Mile’ project," said Verizon Vice President Stephanie Lee. "The efforts of our partnership are contributing to bridging the digital divide by enabling broadband connectivity in 53 unserved and underserved communities in western and central Massachusetts."