People in Otis, Massachusetts, are now seeing utility crews make space for fiber optic cable on poles as they prepare for the community’s publicly owned Internet network. The schedule calls for cable installation in August; the network should start serving residents and businesses this fall.
Working With A Neighbor
Like several other hill towns in western Massachusetts, Otis is working with Westfield Gas + Electric’s WhipCity Fiber, which will handle construction of the network. WhipCity will construct the network in phases, connecting premises as neighborhoods are completed. The project will connect 1,687 premises and will cost approximately $5 million.
Construction is finally able to commence because in May, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) released funding for last mile broadband networks to several towns that advocated for their own solutions. Otis received $1.7 million. Communities like Otis that chose to invest in publicly owned infrastructure are required to contribute to the cost of their network.
MBI chose to release the funds after a drawn out situation in which unserved and underserved communities in the western part of the state first planned to unite as a broadband cooperative, WiredWest. MBI was the administrator of approximately $50 million in federal stimulus and state grant funding but withheld the funds. They felt there were problems with the WiredWest business model, but local towns and municipal network experts did not share those concerns. Instead, MBI planned to dole out the funding to large incumbent providers, which angered many of the local communities that have expressed dissatisfaction with treatment by those very companies over the years. Comcast will still obtain large amounts of the grant money to build out in several of the smaller communities. Those small towns will not be required to contribute, but 100 precent of their premises are not always served and they will not own the infrastructure.
At least a dozen local communities did not want to work with Comcast or any other big incumbent, however, and instead wanted to invest in publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks. Several of those communities had already commissionied feasibility studies and had even completed engineering plans for their proposed networks. Finally after strong advocacy from local leaders, the administration decided to release funding so municipalities could start their projects.
- New Ashford
- New Salem
- Mount Washington
Cracking The Whip In Western Mass
WhipCity Fiber has improved connectivity in Westfield and hill town community leaders are interested in working with Westfield to reproduce that success. At a February forum to bring town leaders and providers together, WhipCity represenatitives were in high demand. Otis had already contracted with WhipCity, but Charlemont, Goshen, and New Salem representatives were seeking information from Westfield.
Otis Town Administrator Christopher Morris told the Berkshire Eagle that the community is more than ready for first steps of deployment: "It is nice to see the trucks out there and see pole work being done. It's been a long time. We'll be lighting up neighborhoods with broadband service as we go."