Rural Massachusetts Open Access Fiber-Optic Network Builds Momentum

We are hearing exciting news from western Massachusetts -- at least 17 towns have already held the necessary meetings and votes to join the Wired West cooperative that will build an open access, universal, FTTH broadband network in each of the member towns. This is an exciting project in a region largely left behind by cable and phone companies.

Back in January, we described the steps necessary to form a "Municipal Light Plant," in each community but a recent update from Wired West reminds us about the specifics:

Town participation in the WiredWest municipal telecommunications cooperative requires passing two consecutive town votes at separate meetings to establish Municipal Light Plant (MLP) legislation in the town. The MLP legislation was created in the Commonwealth over 100 years ago to enable towns to generate their own electricity. In 1996, the ability for towns to offer telecommunications services was added to the MLP statute. WiredWest charter towns researched various governance options and determined this was the best choice for enabling towns to offer telecommunications services, work together cooperatively and issue municipal debt to capitalize the network.

Towns have been passing the 2/3 votes with overwhelming approval, as in the town of Florida, with a 30-1 vote.

Wired West is maintaining an impressive map of the status of each town along the path. Clicking on a town brings up more information about that town. Kudos to them for making a great map that is easy to use and conveys a lot of information.

The Berkshire Eagle recently published an op-ed discussing the importance of economic development in the area:

Because many Berkshirites work, either at home or in an office, in towns without high-speed Internet service, making such connections widely available is vital to economic development in the county. I’m a volunteer with WiredWest, a cooperative effort of 47 towns in Western Massachusetts to build a locally-owned fiber-optic network to provide broadband services to homes and businesses. With this network the Berkshires can compete with anywhere else in the country, or the world for that matter, as a place to live and work. Without it, unwired areas of the county will become economic deadzones.

Monica Webb, spokeswoman for Wired West, was interviewed about the network:

"We've got 47 towns that have opted to join the organization and have been part of the discussions," she said. "Of those, about 30 are actively pursuing the government structure required to join Wired West, which requires two votes at two town meetings. In July, we will have the meeting to form our cooperative and we're hoping that at least a couple of dozen towns will join after that. We already have our recommended articles of incorporation and bylaws so that once this is formed it can be acted on quickly."

"I do have satellite and although I hear a lot from people that the weather affects their connection, that's less of an issue for me than the integrity of the system itself," she said in a phone interview. "If it goes out, they have to send a technician out to fix it and that can take up to a week. I've had to sit on the steps of the library twice a day to send and receive emails and I know I'm not the only one who's doing this. Even with the satellite, I've had to send three separate emails to people because a file was too big. This is really no way to conduct a business."

And she has developed an incredible metaphor for explaining why wireless alone is not sufficient for the economic development and high quality of life local residents need:

"I try to tell people, imagine that you are at the top of a hill with two pails of water and you want the water to go to the bottom of the hill. Dump one directly on the ground and then pour another down a pipe that is running downhill. That's the difference between fiber and wireless. And besides, fiber sets the foundation for wireless. Wireless will never have the capacity to run a business."

This is exactly correct. Wireless is no substitute for the reliability and high capacity of a fiber-optic connection. Unfortunately, rural residents across the country have to deal with the same issue -- policymakers who want to take the path of least resistance by leaving rural residents barely connected to the the engine of economic development and quality of life: modern communications.

We previously noted the long video released by Wired West but below we have embedded a shorter, Director's Cut.