Citizens Take Charge: Concord, Massachusetts, Builds a Fiber Network

Author(s): 
David Talbot
Waide Warner
Susan Crawford
Jacob White
Publication Date: 
Monday, 2017, February 6

A new case study recently released by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University describes how the community of Concord, Massachusetts deployed its extensive municipal fiber-optic network and smart grid. In Citizens Take Charge: Concord, Massachusetts, Builds a Fiber Network, the authors offer history, and describe the benefits to the community from better connectivity and enhanced electric efficiencies.

 

 

Key Findings from the report:

  • In 2009 Concord Municipal Light Plant (CMLP) started work on a 100-mile fiber optic and wireless network to provide backhaul for a smart grid. The fiber passes 95 percent of homes and businesses in town. 
  • The $3.9 million project was paid for by electric ratepayers through annual payments that started at $418,000 per year and will decline to $207,000 in the 15th and final year of payments. The fiber will last for at least 30 years. 
  • In a second step, CMLP established a telecommunications division, called Concord Light Broadband, and borrowed $600,000 to fund startup costs of an Internet access business and fiber connections to customers. 
  • CMLP offers residential data plans of up to 200 Mbps, upload and download, for $89 monthly with a two-year agreement. CMLP competes with Comcast. CMLP doesn’t offer phone or video, but does provide much faster data upload speeds than does Comcast. 
  • The project is still being built: at the end of 2016, Concord Light Broadband served about 750 customers (a “take rate” of about 12 percent of the 6,000 customers CMLP estimates could take service) and earned 2016 revenue of $560,000, slightly less than operating costs of $583,000. (In 2016 the division also paid debt service of $60,000, including a $50,000 payment on principal.)
  • CMLP’s fiber helped the town save $108,000 in annual police and school communications costs and generated $88,000 in leasing revenue from a private school and two telecom companies. 
  • CMLP is only in the early stages of realizing the benefits of its fiber. The utility is now engaged in studies on how to use the infrastructure to realize more cost savings, increase revenue, provide new services, and reduce emissions in the coming decades.
  • David Talbot, one of the report authors, also recently put together a Berkman center study on Chattanooga’s benefits from the EPB fiber-optic network. Readers will also recognize the other authors: Waide Warner and Susan Crawford. Jacob White rounded out the list of authors on this detailed report.

Check out the full report at the Berkman Center's website.