Broadband expansion project is nearly completed and winning rave reviews

Dan Lancaster, Comcast’s construction head for the Sharon project, at left, confers with Rich Phipps, owner of R&R Broadband, contractor for the work, on Thursday, Feb. 22.

Leila Hawken

Broadband expansion project is nearly completed and winning rave reviews

SHARON — After years of community-wide surveys, expert planning, public meetings, and coordination of multitiered elements legal and logistical, the work of the SharonConnect Task Force, town officials and Comcast and construction crews is nearly completed.

The last big construction job needed for the project, now judged to be 80-90% completed, was happening on schedule when Dan Lancaster, Comcast’s construction head for the Sharon project, paused for an interview Thursday, Feb. 22. That was the day contractor crews were stringing cable line from West Cornwall Road through the forest to two homes along Route 7.

Rich Phipps, owner of R&R Broadband LLC, was on the job with his crew doing the contracted installation work, involving pulling the cable line through pole to pole down the steep forested incline from West Cornwall Road.

“We’re getting close; we’re almost there,” Lancaster said, noting that 27-30 miles of cable had been strung throughout the town on utility poles, with an additional 7-8 miles of underground buried cable. For Thursday’s job on Route 7, 2,400 feet of cable, just about an entire reel, was needed to cover the distance.

While the project’s initial approval came in February 2023, with the contract with Comcast signed March 2, Lancaster said that it was July before pole permissions were in place, so the underground installation began first.

Jointly providing additional information about the project’s history, SharonConnect Task Force co-chairs Jill Drew and Meghan Flanagan along with the town’s project coordinator, Nikki Blass, indicated that work began March 9 with the stringing of Caroline Drive that took three days to complete. In that one instance, pole permissions were already in place.

While a specific date for completion has not yet been determined, Drew said that the construction phase is winding down. She noted that at least one home received its installation on Super Bowl Sunday.

Looking ahead, Drew said that Comcast is planning to hold at least one community meeting, perhaps in April, at which company representatives will answer any questions, offer technical advice and show residents how to use the Comcast website.

In the spring, the task force is planning a celebration at the Town Beach on Mudge Pond to mark completion of the project, giving a special cheer because Comcast has agreed to install service at the site to enable Wi-Fi calling for the first time. Drew said that cell service at the beach has always been all but impossible, so the service will enhance safety and convenience.

Veterans’ Field has also been wired for internet and Wi-Fi as a part of the project, Drew noted.

There have been challenges to the project along the way, although Drew said that they were not unexpected.

“We do now better understand why universal access [making high-speed internet available to every single address in town] is so hard to achieve. The application process for licensing more than 700 individual utility poles took months,” she said, noting, however, that the issue was expected.

“The Comcast project managers have been great to work with and the people working in Sharon are terrific,” Drew said. Lancaster had returned the compliment, praising the diligent work of the SharonConnect Task Force members and the town as being crucial to the needs of the project. Lancaster brings a history of 37 years of experience with Comcast.

Problems have arisen, however, when residents have contacted the corporate offices, particularly when trying to subscribe for Xfinity mobile phone service in connection with their service packages. Drew cited complaints about interfacing with robots online and by phone bringing frustration to the new customers, who are also suffering delays and confusion when they are ready to sign up for service packages.

Drew suggested that residents needing help with service packages might call 800-934-6489 or go online to: www.xfinity.com/learn/deals/internet

Praising Lancaster as a “can-do” person, Drew went on to applaud the Comcast project team serving the Sharon project, specifically Matt Skane and Elizabeth Calabrese, for being “accessible and responsive.”

As the project winds down, the task force members continue videoconferencing with the Comcast project team every two weeks, identifying specific addresses where issues exist and seeing that those issues are resolved, keeping the homeowner informed along the way.

Reflecting the good relationship built between Comcast and the town, Drew said that Skane and Calabrese were successful in convincing Comcast to add addresses to the project at no additional cost to the town.

Comcast technicians who do the in-home installations, Dan Dodge and Steve Wabrek, have also earned praise from residents for their patience and clear explanation of the service.

‘Night and day’

Asked for comments about their satisfaction with the new high-speed internet, two residents termed it “night and day.”

Ellsworth resident Larry Rand wrote that several weeks ago, Comcast had installed a new modem in Rand’s home, replacing a wireless system.

“We immediately went from download speeds of 1-70mbps (upload 10mbps) with daily rebooting to a dependable download speed of 250-350mbps (upload 50-80mbps). It has been like going from night to day.”

“We are thankful Sharon decided to extend Comcast coverage to areas like ours,” Rand said.

“I felt like I took off a blindfold that I had not realized I was wearing in the first place” said John Brett of Drum Road. He said that his connectivity went from 2.03mbps for a download (upload .035mbps) to 356mbps (upload 11.6mbps).

“You get the idea, basically night and day,” Brett said.

Kate Stiassni, a Boland Road resident with a long driveway, is no less pleased. “I think this SharonConnect is a great story,” she said, crediting a group of “smart, dedicated Sharon residents” for their years of effort to solve the problem of poor internet service.

Stiassni’s service was connected during the summer. A builder by profession, she indicated that she can now send and receive heavy architectural files. As a textile artist, she can send high-resolution images of her works without cringing when she hits the “send” button. Her musician son said that he is no longer stressed by her internet service when he visits. She herself can now download a book in under five minutes rather than the previous rate of five hours.

“I am a pretty normal person with pretty normal everyday needs who can now live convincingly in the 21st century,” Stiassni said.

“We are thrilled to have access to the internet via Xfinity,” said resident Joan Lewis, who lives on Herb Road, noting that several providers had been tried in past years before the Comcast project, but ultimately her service had involved “pinging off a nearby cell tower.”

“Thanks to the SharonConnect task force, and Xfinity’s technician Steve Wabrek, we have finally joined the rest of Sharon enjoying all things high-speed internet has to offer,” Lewis said, noting that she had scheduled her recent activation in February for her birthday as a gift to herself.

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