Comcast has purchased two municipal broadband systems in Braintree and Russell, Massachusetts after the communities said that necessary network build outs would be too expensive.
The two Massachusetts communities have long histories in the municipal broadband business, with Braintree Electric Light Department (BELD), the town’s municipal electric utility, launching service in 2003. Russell launched its cable TV system in 1988. According to the town’s website, pricing for Russell Cable TV is $77 per month for expanded basic service and broadband charges range from $65 per month for 10 Mbps service and $120 per month for 50 Mbps service.
BELD didn’t say how much it sold the system for, which was launched in 2003 and had about 2,500 customers, about 500 less than last year. Comcast has been providing video, voice and data service in Braintree for several years but did not previously offer service in Russell.
BELD dropped its cable TV offering in 2019, citing the high cost of programming.
According to a statement issued on its website, BELD Internet general manager Bill Bottiggi said a study conducted by the utility showed it would need to invest millions of dollars to maintain the quality of the service, which would result in the municipality having to charge significantly higher rates for service. BELD launched a 1 Gigabit per second service in 2019 and charged as low as $39.95 per month for the first year for 100 Megabit per second service.
According to BroadbandNow, BELD charged $99.95 per month for 1Gbps service and $79.95 per month for 400 Mbps service. The town said the transition to Comcast will begin later this month. Promotional pricing for Comcast service in the area ranges from $29.99 for the first two years for 200 Mbps speeds and $79.99 for the first 24 months for 1.2 Gbps service.
"We are proud of our 20-year history as a top internet Service Provider and are sincerely thankful for our customers' loyalty," Bottiggi said in a statement. "Our top priority has always been our customers, and we continue to think of their best interests while adjusting to market conditions. After evaluating our options, we are confident the best decision is to connect our business with Comcast's best in-class network, products, services and customer experience."
A Comcast spokesperson said the purchases represent two separate and unique opportunities and that it was coincidental they closed at the same time. Talks to purchase the Russell system began about two years ago, while BELD approached Comcast about a possible transaction beginning in April.
“We chose Comcast because it is the best operator in the business with the fastest and most reliable network,” Russell Municipal Cable manager Randy Merritt said in a statement. “They are true innovators who continuously invest in their network to meet customers’ current and future needs and we are confident this sale will ensure our customers have access to Comcast’s best-in-class network, products, services and customer experience.”
Braintree is about 12 miles from Boston, and at least three other nearby communities -- Quincy, Weymouth and Milton -- have expressed plans to offer their own municipal broadband service.
Russell is located within Hampden County in western Massachusetts and has a population of 1,640 people, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.
“The acquisition of Russell Municipal Cable TV gives Comcast an opportunity to provide customers in the Town of Russell with access to our Xfinity and Comcast Business innovative products and services, including our broadband internet experience with the fastest broadband speeds available to residents,” Comcast Western New England Region SVP Carolyne Hannan said in the blog post. “We have a longstanding commitment to serving the communities in the Commonwealth where our customers and employees live and work and are proud to extend that commitment to our newest community in western Massachusetts.”
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Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.