SPRINGFIELD — According to the president and CEO of a company that installs broadband systems in communities looking to offer residents a choice of internet service, the permitting process at the state level in Massachusetts takes on the average three years.

In Connecticut it takes three months, he added.

Richard Clark of GoNetSpeed spoke about the difficulties of doing business in Massachusetts at a legislative summit meeting conducted May 13 at American International College. At the heart of the issue is the amount of time it takes the commonwealth to approve the placement of the fiber optic lines on existing utility poles.

In a statement made prior to the event, Clark said, “As we have worked to provide communities throughout the commonwealth with access to more choice and better speeds, we have seen that due to the difficult pole application process, much of the state is left behind without access to quality service options. By bringing together industry, state, and civic leaders, we have created a space to discuss opportunities and solutions to bridge the quickly growing digital divide for the students, workers, cities, towns, homes, and businesses that lack access to high-quality, high-speed solutions.”

The focus of the event was to build support for two pieces of legislation that would reform the process. State Sen. Adam Gomez (D-Springfield) has sponsored the senate version, which aims to “establish standards for the pole attachment process to facilitate the construction of broadband networks.” State Rep. Angelo Puppolo (D-Springfield) said the House version is co-sponsored by state Reps. Michelle M. DuBois (D-Brockton) and Bud L. Williams (D-Springfield). It too is “to establish standards for the pole attachment process to facilitate the construction of broadband networks.”

Gomez said the gap created by the digital divide “separates communities.” Puppolo added the House bill is currently in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Clark is asking Massachusetts residents to contact their representatives and senators to show support for the two bills.

Clark’s company has installed systems in Maine, Alabama, Connecticut, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and West Virginia. None of those states posed the regulatory issues as does Massachusetts, he said.

“Massachusetts is the toughest in the country to implement broadband infrastructure,” he told the audience largely comprised of industry professionals.

Clark added his company is focused on Western Massachusetts, central Massachusetts and Cape Cod.
Currently there are two different states agencies that are involved in the approval process. The poles are primarily owned by National Grid, Eversource and Verizon, attorney Jamie Hoare explained. Placing fiber optics lines on the poles is a money-making situation for those companies as they charge rent to organizations such as GoNetSpeed, he added.

Agawam has contracted with the company to install and operate a competing broadband service for that community. After two years the town is still waiting for the approval from the state, Mayor Christopher Johnson noted. “It highlights the process difficulties in Massachusetts,” he added.

Johnson said the slow process is “definitely an economic development issue” that puts the commonwealth at “a tremendous economic disadvantage.”

Steve Baker, director of Broadband and Digital Equity for the commonwealth, also spoke and stated programs under the Healey administration are designed to address the estimated 15,000 “underserved locations” in the commonwealth. He added Massachusetts is “a unique position of leadership,” but did not comment on the proposed legislation.”

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