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Community Connections - Anne Schweiger, Boston, Massachusetts

In this week's Community Connections, Christopher chats with Anne Schweiger, Broadband and Digital Equity Advocate for the city of Boston. Schweiger talks about the challenges that Boston faces, including a lack of competition and adoption of broadband in the home. She talks about the importance of "baking good broadband practice" into building codes for cities.

In February, 2016 the Boston Globe editorial board came out in support of a municipal network. 

Boston has its own conduit network and significant fiber assets, but residents and businesses must seek service from large private providers. 

Open Cape Works With Communities for Last Mile - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 215

Cape Cod's Open Cape is the latest of the stimulus-funded middle mile broadband projects to focus on expanding to connect businesses and residents. We talk to Open Cape Executive Director Steve Johnston about the new focus and challenge of expansion in episode 215 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Steve has spent much of his first year as executive director in meetings with people all across the Cape. We talk about how important those meetings are and why Steve made them a priority in the effort to expand Open Cape.

We also talk about the how Open Cape is using Crowd Fiber to allow residents to show their interest in an Open Cape connection. They hope that expanding the network will encourage people to spend more time on the Cape, whether living or vacationing.

The Cape is not just a vacation spot, it has a large number of full time residents that are looking for more economic opportunities and the higher quality of life that comes with full access to modern technology.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 26 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Roller Genoa for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Safe and Warm in Hunter's Arms."

Tiny Mt Washington Builds Fiber-to-the-Home - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 212

Overlooked by the incumbent telephone company, Mount Washington in the southwest corner of Massachusetts is becoming one of the smallest FTTH communities in the country by investing in a municipal fiber network. A strong majority of the town committed to three years of service and the state contributed $230,000 to build the network after a lot of local groundwork and organizing.

Select Board member Gail Garrett joins us for episode 212 of the Community Broadband Bits to discuss their process and the challenges of crafting an economical plan on such a small scale.

It turns out that the rural town had some advantages - low make-ready costs from the lack of wires on poles and no competition to have to worry about. So they are moving forward and with some cooperation from the telephone company and electric utility, they could build it pretty quickly. We also discuss what happens to those homes that choose not to take service when it is rolled out - they will have to pay more later to be connected.

Read the rest of our coverage of Mt Washington here.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 21 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Roller Genoa for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Safe and Warm in Hunter's Arms."

PBS Takes A Look At Internet Cooperatives

We aren’t the only ones noticing. As rural communities take control of their connectivity by banding together to form broadband cooperatives, their efforts are getting attention. Earlier this month, PBS News Hour featured a story on the Wired West and RS Fiber Cooperatives.

Ivette Feliciano visits with local residents, business owners, and community leaders in both western Massachusetts and rural Minnesota where both initiatives are rewriting the rules for rural dwellers. She visits with Jake Reike, a farmer from Renville County; he talked with Chris during the Community Broadband Bits podcast episode #198. He described for us how improving local connectivity was what his family needed to maintain their farming lifestyle.

Feliciano also sought out expert Susan Crawford, who explained why people in these sparsely populated communities need high-quality connectivity and why they refuse to wait for big providers who may never come to their rescue.

Download a copy of our report RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative, to learn the details of one Minnesota farming region is bringing better Internet access to its people and businesses. There is much to be gained by joining forces.

For more on Wired West, we recommend WiredWest: a Cooperative of Municipalities Forms to Build a Fiber Optic Network, from the Berkman Center. Crawford helped author that report that dives deeper into the situation in western Massachusetts.

Whip City Fiber Snaps To It: Yet Another Expansion In Westfield, MA

In the spring, Westfield, Massachusetts began to expand it’s Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, Whip City Fiber with a build-out to three additional neighborhoods. Earlier this month, Westfield Gas + Electric announced that they will soon expand even further to three more areas.

According to Dan Howard, General Manager of the utility, the demand for the symmetrical Internet access is strong:

"Every day we hear from residents of Westfield who are anxious for high-speed Internet to be available in their neighborhood," he said. "It's a great motivator for our entire team to hear how much customers are looking forward to this new service."

Gigabit residential access is $69.95 per month; businesses pay $84.95 for the same product but also get Wi-Fi for their establishments. Installation is free. If people in the new target areas sign up before August 31st, they will get a free month of service.

Like a growing number of communities, Westfield started with a pilot project in a limited area to test the level of interest for a FTTH network in their community. They are finding a high level of interest and gaining both confidence and the knowledge to continue the incremental expansion across the community. Other towns with the same approach include Owensboro, Kentucky; Madison, Wisconsin; and Holland, Michigan.

Westfield officials are asking interested residents and businesses to check out the pilot expansion page to determine if they are in the expansion area and to sign up for service. The page also explains how your Westfield neighborhood can become a fiberhood to get on the list for expansion.

For more about Whip City Fiber, listen to Chris interview Aaron Bean, Operations Manager, and Sean Fitzgerald, Customer Service Manager, from Westfield Gas + Electric. They spoke in June during episode #205 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Leverett Releases RFP For ISP: Responses Due August 15th

Leverett, Massachusetts, has operated its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network since August 2015, working with Crocker Communications to bring Gigabit per second (Gbps) connectivity to residents and businesses in the Massachusetts town. The contract with Crocker is not indefinite, however, and the city has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer services on the network. Responses are due August 15, 2016.

According to the RFP, the ISP selected will have an exclusive agreement to provide services to the community as leverettnet.net. The community seeks a three-year contract and will begin on or before July 1, 2017. 

Leverett’s contract with Crocker Communications was also a three-year term, commencing in 2014. Releasing an RFP now will give community leaders eleven months to review submissions from potential providers and negotiate terms. With their own infrastructure, Leverett has the ability to take a discerning approach and explore other options from the RFP release.

RFP SCHEDULE: 

Written Questions Due: July 18, 2016 at 10 a.m. 

Answers to Questions Posted: July 25, 2016

Submission of Proposals Due: August 15, 2016 at 10 a.m.

Finalist Named: August 26th, 2016

Contract Award: September 2nd, 2016

Bridgewater State University Connects to OpenCape

CapeNet, the local Internet service provider, on the OpenCape community network is expanding in southeastern Massachusetts. Bridgewater State University will connect to the OpenCape network for more bandwidth and more reliable Internet access.

Connectivity for Education

Bridgewater State University needed to ensure reliable connectivity for its students because many university courses have online, cloud-based, or video components. In fact, nearly every school CapeNet serves requests more bandwidth each year, reports the Bridgewater Wicked Local.

Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at Bridgewater State University, Raymond V. Lefebvre, summed up the importance of connectivity for education institutions: 

“We pursued this additional Internet bandwidth in support of teaching, research, collaboration, learning and our residence students.”

More Reliable, Higher Bandwidth

The university already has connectivity through another provider, but wanted a second fiber connection to ensure redundancy. Connecting to OpenCape not only increases bandwidth, but also improves reliability. The OpenCape network traverses an entirely different route than the university’s other fiber connection. 

If the first fiber connection fails (i.e. if the cable gets damaged or equipment goes down), students’ and professors’ work will not be interrupted thanks to the connection to the OpenCape network. The second connection will keep information flowing. Alan Davis, CEO of CapeNet, explained:

“Because the OpenCape Network has virtually unlimited capacity and was designed to eliminate single points of failure, it is a valuable tool for institutions like Bridgewater State.”

According to Lefebvre, Bridgewater also appreciates CapeNet's status as a local provider dedicated to working with public entities in the region. In March, we reported on CapeNet's upgrades at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, also connected via the OpenCape fiber network.

Another RFP: Egremont, Massachusetts

Egremont, Massachusetts, population approximately 1,000, is seeking a firm for design, engineering, and consulting services for a Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network. They released a Request or Proposals (RFP) in mid-May and proposal submissions are due on June 15th.

Small Town Seeks Big Connectivity

The community is one of the many rural towns located in the far western part of the state where high-quality connectivity is rare. Like Leverett, Mount Washington, and the Wired West communities, Egremont has decided the time to wait for the big providers is over.

The town is located near Mount Washington in Berkshire County and has about 950 residents and businesses and 47 miles of roads. It’s situated in a valley east of the Taconic Mountain Range and lies along the Green River. Similar to many of the other small towns in western Massachusetts, there are also a number of vacation homes in Egremont.

Egremont is seeking a firm that will develop a fast, affordable, reliable network to offer Internet access and VoIP. In their RFP, Egremont expresses a requirement that the new infrastructure connect to the state’s MassBroadband 123. For more details on what the community wants to see in proposal submissions, check out the RFP online.

Mount Washington Voters Ready To Fund Muni

With only about 150 full-time residents, it’s hard to get the big ISPs to pay attention to you, especially when you are situated in forest-covered mountains. The people of Mount Washington, Massachusetts, realize that if they want high-quality connectivity, they have to do it themselves. At a special town meeting in May, voters unanimously approved funding for a municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Flying Solo In Western Mass

Earlier this year, the small community obtained legal authority to move forward on the project without establishing a Municipal Light Plant (MLP). State law requires municipalities to establish an MLP as the public entity to administer a city’s publicly owned network. Mount Washington considered it an unnecessary and burdensome requirement for such a small community; the legislature agreed. Since they decided not to join the Wired West Cooperative, which requires member towns to establish MLPs, they don't need one. 

Mount Washington officials released a Request for Proposals (RFP) in the spring and received seven responses. The town selected a firm to construct the network, for which they have already set aside $250,000 from the town’s stabilization fund. At the May town meeting, voters approved an additional $450,000 in borrowing and selectmen are working with a financial advisor to review options.

Selectman Brian Tobin told the Berkshire Edge that the community expects to be eligible for funding from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI); town officials are talking with the agency. The state organization announced that it will be working closely with Massachusetts towns on a case-by-case basis to disburse approximately $50 million in sate funding to improve connectivity. 

“Mount Washington Is Ready To Go”

In February, Tobin predicted that voters would support the project and he was right. At the time, he said that even those that were content with satellite Internet access appreciated the increased property value benefit of an FTTH network.

Apparently, his confidence was not misplaced. From the Berkshire Edge article:

“I feel we’re really far ahead,” Tobin said, noting the initial “take rate,” or customers who have committed to the service, is 91 out of 145 houses. He said fiber optics will run past every home in town so residents who haven’t yet signed up can be added on anytime. “We’re building it for everybody who wants it. We have a self-sustainable project here.”

“Everyone who voted [at special town meeting], voted to do this,” Tobin said. “Pretty much everyone wants to move into the 21st century and have a high speed fiber optic network. That is encouraging.”

Whip City Fiber Expanding - Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 205

Last month we wrote wrote about the Whip City Fiber Pilot project in Westfield, Massachusetts expanding and this week we interview two people from Westfield Gas & Electric about the effort. Aaron Bean is the Operations Manager and Sean Fitzgerald is the Key Accounts and Customer Service Manager.

We discuss their pilot project, how they structured the services and pricing, and integrated the new telecommunications services into the municipal utility.

We also discuss whether the lack of a television option is limiting interest from potential subscribers and how they are picking the next locations to expand the network.

The sound effect we use in the intro is licensed using creative commons. We found it here.

Read the transcript from this show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 18 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Forget the Whale for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "I Know Where You've Been."