Bridging the digital divide

Princeton is one of 45 municipalities across the state that do not have access to high-speed Internet service. The town’s broadband committee tried to get Charter, Comcast, or Verizon to take a look at building a network, but none of the companies was interested. The town wasn’t dense enough to make the project worthwhile: Big Cable wanted more than 25 buildings per mile of road; Princeton averages 15.

Last winter, when a state-funded institute completed a fiber-optic network crisscrossing central and western Massachusetts, the committee decided to connect to it by plugging into the Matrix — the Matrix Design group, that is. In December, voters overwhelmingly approved a $1.2 million borrowing plan to have the New Jersey-based company build and operate fiber-optic network for Princeton. Matrix would own the network for 20 years while a part of the subscribers’ fees go toward paying off the investment; the town can renew its contract or buy the network from Matrix for $1 afterwards.

The public/private project is expected to be completed in 2016 and Matrix estimates residents would be charged $95 a month for Internet service and $115 a month for phone and Internet. The price seems high at a time when some consumers are paying $79 a month for phone, Internet, and video. But few in the rural town are complaining. John Kowaleski, the broadband committee chairman, says, “When we talk about getting high-speed broadband in town, people don’t ask anything other than, ‘When can I get it?’ ”