Better Connectivity Sooner Than Expected in Chicopee

Chicopee, Massachusetts, is on its way to better connectivity through a publicly owned network after all. Chicopee Electric Light (CEL) has announced that the municipal utility plans to develop a pilot program yet this year to experiment with business connectivity. If all goes well, they have a long-term vision to also serve residents.

Remember That Resolution You Introduced?

Last week, we reported that at a recent meeting, City Councilor Joel McAuliffe had presented a resolution seeking support for a municipal network. Rather than pass it, however, the council referred the resolution on to the Utilities Committee for further review. McAuliffe created an online petition to show his colleagues on the council that their constituents supported a publicly owned network.

According to local outlet The Reminder, as the issue of municipal connectivity became a hot topic, CEL decided it was time to release news of their plan to launch a pilot project.

CEL General Manager Jeff Cady said, “We’re a municipal utility and operate in the best interest of our stakeholders, the rate payers. We’re going to operate our Internet service in the same way. We’re going to start slowly, providing service to a handful of businesses to iron out any issues.”

Cady went on to tell The Reminder that, even though the feasibility study was a few years old, the data was still valid and CEL are close to finalizing their plans.

CEL has already decided on a name for the service: Crossroads Fiber. The network will be deployed in phases, with businesses closest to existing fiber assets scheduled to be the first for connection. Approximately 70 percent of businesses in Chicopee are already near the community’s existing fiber and some are already receiving service through an agreement between CEL and Holyoke Gas & Electric. Once the initial pilot project is completed and CEL has had a chance to discover and resolve any issues, they anticipate expanding the pilot area in 2019.

Residents Won't Have to Wait Too Long

Cady said that CEL envisions a similar pilot project for Crossroads Fiber residential Internet access in the summer of 2019. The service, with speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, will be offered to 300 to 500 households at first and expansions will be determined by demand.

“There are those who may question why we’ve chosen not to pursue a ‘build it and they will come’ approach. The answer is simple. Proceeding in a thoughtful, measured way allows us to control costs and manage construction schedules based on demand. It’s the only way we can ensure Crossroads Fiber is self-sufficient and does not impact electric rates. The measured approach also allows us to speed up construction if the demand warrants it,” Cady said.

The Flavor of Chicopee

With around 60,000 residents, Chicopee is the second most populous city in western Massachusetts after its neighbor, Springfield. The city sits adjacent to the Chicopee River. Over the years, the community has been known as home to a broad range of industries, including cotton and woolen mills, brass and iron foundries, ship building, and even a stint as a major manufacturing center of bicycles. Chicopee was the first city west of Boston to form a publicly funded library.

logo-chickopee-ma.png While there are a few national chains in Chicopee, there remains many small, local businesses in the community. Some of the better known employers are Callaway Golf, Chemex Corporation, which makes pour-over coffeemakers, and the Buxton Company, known for leather and travel goods. There are also several financial companies headquartered in Chicopee.

In 2015, when the city hired consultants to conduct a feasibility study, the results revealed that the community would benefit from a municipal fiber network. Households in Chicopee tend to use more than the national average number of Internet-connected devices, already taxing a stressed copper system. With only Verizon DSL and Charter Spectrum to rely on, constituents have complained to his office in a steady stream, according to McAuliffe. He also noted that folks he spoke with during face-to-face campaigning repeatedly brought up the issue of poor connectivity. When colleagues on the city council stated that they had no knowledge of complaints from constituents, McAuliffe decided to create the online petition.

Now that CEL has made plans for Crossroads Fiber public, Chicopee businesses and residents know that better connectivity is ahead. Mayor Richard Kos:

“I am happy to see Chicopee Electric move forward with this project. I think that businesses and residents will benefit from this, but their approach to moving slowly at first makes sense due to the costs and complexities involved.”

Image credit : LymanSchool [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5], from Wikimedia Commons.