Tag: "massachusetts"

Posted January 22, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Western Massachusetts stands as maybe the most dynamic place for municipal broadband at the present, with almost two dozen cities pursuing projects. And while the slate has many similarities between them, each has a unique starting point and has followed its own path along the way. 

Cummington (pop. 800), which straddles the banks of the Westfield River thirty miles northwest of Springfield and twenty miles east of the New York border, has just completed its municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. It has been almost a decade in the making, and despite seeing its share of obstacles along the way, residents can now look forward to years of fast, affordable Internet access. 

Stuck on DSL

Ten years ago, Cummington had no high-speed Internet access options. Verizon offered the only DSL service in town, and its network in the area remained a relic of upgrades focused not on residents there but in the population centers to the east. Only half the town was covered, relegated to download speeds in the single digits and upload speeds at a fraction of that. The rest of the town’s residents were stuck with satellite service, which was even slower and more unreliable with changing weather. 

The story of broadband for western Massachusetts is a winding road. At the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the state of Massachusetts had completed its MassBroadband 123 backbone network (currently, it’s operated by KCST USA, formerly Axia Networks), as well as brought middle-mile infrastructure to schools and libraries in towns and communities in the area (including Cummington). Residents, however, remained unconnected. 

In 2010, Municipal Light Plant Chairman Allan Douglas shared, the town got together to explore options. In the spring and summer of 2011 it voted to join WiredWest, the consortium of towns which have banded together to pursue better broadband. An engineering study completed by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute determined last-mile connections in Cummington would cost of roughly $2.2 million. 

Between 2011 and 2016, however, the town remained stuck in a bit of a holding pattern. The previous state administration...

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Posted December 31, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

The Milton, Massachusetts Municipal Fiber Initiative recently launched a friendly petition to collect signatures to present to the city select board in support of a city-wide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to increase competition, speed, reliability, and customer service while lower Internet access costs for residents. From the group's website:

We are a community-led effort to create a fiber-optic, municipal broadband network in the town of Milton, MA.  We believe a community-owned, state of the art, 100% fiber network is necessary to provide everyone in town - residents, town government, local businesses and non-profits - with better access, more choice, lower prices, blazing fast speeds, and superior reliability...now and for decades to come!

The group indicates that the town has already created a municipal broadband committee as well as a design and cost estimate done by CTC Energy and Technology [pdf]. 

From the petition:

To all our Milton friends and neighbors -

The MMFI is collecting signatures for a friendly petition to the Milton Select Board. Our intention is to demonstrate public support for municipal broadband, and to urge the board to take the next steps towards the establishment of a municipal broadband network.

The Select Board has made some great progress already with the appointment of a Municipal Broadband Committee.   The committee's efforts culminated in a cost and design estimate for the creation of a 100% fiber, municipally-owned broadband network, providing the town with a viable road map to a town-wide, fiber-to-every-premise network.   

We're asking you to join us in our efforts to keep the process going.  We hope we can make the case to you, our Milton friends and neighbors, that municipal broadband is an investment in Milton's future, a public asset that will serve community needs for generations. 

Massachusetts has seen a flurry of recent activity in municipal broadband. Falmouth is considering a network, and Whip City Fiber (Westfield, Mass.) is in the process of helping almost...

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Posted December 10, 2020 by sean

Cape Cod, a peninsula in southeastern Massachusetts that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean like a flexed arm, has long been known as a top summer vacation destination and upscale retirement haven going back to when JFK launched his Presidential campaign from his family’s Hyannisport homestead.

During the height of the summer tourist season the population swells to over a million people as visitors from all over the world come to enjoy its picturesque beaches as well as its trails, shops, and seafood. And while the region’s economy is reliant on tourism, the Cape is home to 250,000 year-round residents spread out across 1,306 square miles in 15 towns, many of whom would like to see the regional economy become more diversified, even if the decades-old vision of transforming it into the “silicon sandbar” remains a pipe dream.

What members of a fledgling citizens group in the town of Falmouth have in mind may not be as grandiose as a “silicon sandbar,” but this week they got evidence that their vision of building a municipal-owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network is no pipe dream. 

Falmouth Feasibility Study

In the summer of 2019, David Isenberg – a longtime Falmouth resident, a former Bell Labs scientist, and Senior Advisor to the FCC’s National Broadband Plan – along with a handful of other residents formed the citizens group pushing for a FTTH network in Falmouth. They went before the town’s Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC) to lay out their vision. The group noted that Falmouth, the second-largest town on Cape Cod with a population of about 30,000 year-round residents, could do what 16 other Off-Cape Massachusetts towns have done – build a locally-controlled Internet access network. Then and there, Falmouth EDIC approved $50,000 for the study, concluding that “all sectors of Falmouth’s economy require reliable, high-speed Internet service.”

The results of the study conducted by CCG Consultants were released this week. The study found that more than 60% of residents and many businesses would subscribe, and that it would be financially feasible to build and operate the envisioned network.

“This new fiber network would eliminate the slowdowns and interruptions in [I]nternet service...

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Posted December 4, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

The excellently named Wicked Local reports that the city council of Cambridge, Massachussetts remains deadlocked about what to do to expand broadband to those who need it. Proponents of a municipal network continue to face opposition from some elected city leaders, while others are pushing fixed wireless as a quicker, less immediately expensive solution.

Posted December 4, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

The collection of western Massachusset's towns continue to make progress on network construction, with Becket beginning it's build over the winter. The town has been split into 10 service areas which will be brought online between now and the end of 2022. Wired West will manage the network once it's complete.

Posted October 1, 2020 by christopher

WGBH asks if municipal broadband is an answer to Worcester's Internet challenges. Looks at two other Massachusetts networks, Chicopee and Shrewsbury, that have different muni broadband approaches.

Posted September 29, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This week on the podcast Christopher talks with IT Manager John Leary and Customer Experience, Marketing, & Communications Manager Lisa Stowe from Westfield Gas & Electric, the municipal utility for the city of 40,000 in the southwestern quadrant of the Massachusetts. The topic of the day is Westfield's municipally owned fiber arm — Whip City Fiber — which is doing some wonderful things as it enters its next phase of life.

First, John and Lisa share their thoughts on the history of the network and what they see as key characteristics of its early success: Whip City embraced a model of incremental buildout in its early years, managing expectations and pursuing careful growth during its $2 million pilot project before transitioning, thanks to a $15 million municipal bond, to expanding so that today the network covers 70% of the city. 

The group then digs into Whip City Fiber’s next phase of life: bringing municipally owned gigabit Internet to twenty Western Massachussetts Hill Towns over the next few years, including (but not limited to) Alford, Ashfield, Chesterfield, Leyden, New Ashford, New Salem, Otis, Plainfield, Rowe, Washington, Wendell, and Windsor. With Whip City’s help now and eventual role as Internet Service Provider (ISP) and network operator, nine are already online, with the rest to follow by the end of next year. 

The group ends by talking about the future and getting to 100% coverage in Westfield, and the utility’s commitment to closing the digital divide.

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the trancript for this episode....

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Posted September 25, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Last December we wrote about Connecticut’s long-awaited victory by court affirmation in the fight to let its cities attach to utility poles at no cost in pursuit of spurring municipal broadband efforts. A similar effort seems to have stalled in its neighbor to the north, with HD 4492 languishing in the Massachusetts Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee. 

The bill, “An Act To Establish Municipal Access To Utility Poles Located In Municipal Rights-Of-Way,” is simple. It modifies Chapter 166, Section 22a of the state’s General Laws to eliminate pole attachment fees for cities working to build broadband networks to reach “unserved or underserved areas” (as defined by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI)), shifting the expense instead to the current pole owner(s). John Barrett introduced the bill and two dozen fellow legislators co-signed it. It calls for: 

Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, for the purpose of safeguarding access to infrastructure essential to public health, safety and welfare, an owner of a shared-use pole and each entity attaching to that pole is responsible for that owner's or entity's own expenses for make-ready work to accommodate a municipality's attaching its facilities to that shared-use pole: a) For a governmental purpose consistent with the police power of the municipality; or b) For the purpose of providing broadband service to an unserved or underserved area.

Up in the Air

For parts of the country where aerial fiber sits at the core of network builds as a result of challenges posed by underlying geology (bedrock), overlying geography (topography), or other concerns that preempt underground construction, utility poles are the answer. Massachusetts has more than a million of them, and for projects just navigating the franchise areas of electric utility pole owners [pds] alone could be a daunting task. Getting timely, affordable access for make-ready work is an obstacle which can easily stall and kill a broadband project even when the...

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Posted June 10, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Chicopee, Massachusetts, Ward 1 City Councilor Joel McAuliffe wrote an editorial recently that is well worth reading. In it, he explains how his city of 55,000 people, situated a few miles north of Springfield, has seen in concrete terms the benefits of building a municipal fiber network a year ago. Crossroads Fiber — an initiative of Chicopee Electric Light (founded 1896) — began connecting customers in late summer of last year, with the utility building out in phases. There are plans to provide service to everyone connected to electric. Even so, he says, citizens are already benefitting from municipal fiber during the current pandemic: 

Fiber optic cables continue working during power outages and remain lightning-fast no matter how many users are plugged in. These past few months, internet usage has spiked worldwide, but municipal broadband is allowing hundreds of people in Chicopee to stay connected without interruption.

McAuliffe emphasizes the centrality of fiber to towns and cities in all realms who are looking to the future. And while it’s been nice to see large telecoms stepping in to donate or help communities get connected, McAuliffe rightly emphasizes the dangers of relying on corporate generosity instead of investing in local infrastructure that will benefit the community for generations to come:

Chicopee’s investment in municipal broadband is the first step, but we and cities across the country must commit to further investment to build a more prosperous and equitable society. It is becoming clear why a fast, reliable internet connection is absolutely essential for today and for our future.

We’ve covered Chicopee and Crossroads Fiber a couple of times before, and Christopher spoke with City Councilor McAuliffe on...

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Posted June 9, 2020 by Matthew Marcus

Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) started its broadband division WhipCity Fiber and the buildout of their network five years ago. The project started with only serving Westfield, but WG+E is now contracting with other small towns in Massachusetts to assist in building and potentially operating their own fiber networks.

Today, WG+E is slated to help connect 12,400 households in 20 Massachusetts towns over the next 10 years. In order to do this, WG+E and WhipCity Fiber will receive more than $10 million over the next ten years through the Federal Communication Commission’s Connect America Fund Phase II auction, which awarded $1.5 billion in subsidies to broadband providers to expand rural connectivity across the nation. The 20 towns that are partnering with WG+E to build fiber networks are: Alford, Ashfield, Blandford, Becket, Charlemont, Chesterfield, Colrain, Cummington, Goshen, Heath, Leyden, New Ashford, New Salem, Otis, Plainfield, Rowe, Shutesbury, Washington, Wendell, and Windsor.

Adapting While Expanding

Westfield has been slowly building out its network, which is owned and operated by WG+E, and it is now roughly 75 percent complete. Lisa Stowe, the communications manager at WG+E, said that they temporarily paused new installations in Westfield due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, she is hopeful that they will begin connecting new customers and resume their buildout of the network this year.

WhipCity Fiber logo

To construct the WhipCity Fiber network, Westfield issued a $15 million bond. The city must pay down that bond and do routine updates to the network as they continue expanding. Stowe explained that they are well on track to having the network fully constructed within their original six year timeline.

WG+E has been adaptable during the ongoing pandemic. In partnership with the state, they have helped install nine free Wi-Fi hotspots in the region with more on the way. Additionally, as a stopgap for not being able to connect new...

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