Tag: "massachusetts"

Posted February 1, 2019 by lgonzalez

Expect to see more Massachusetts communities connected to their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks during 2019. Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E) has been working with the rural towns on the western side of the state, and an increasing number of the projects are nearing completion. With the arrival of their broadband hut in December, the folks in New Salem embraced their Broadband Committee’s adopted motto, “This Is Really Happening!”

Summer of Speed

Broadband Committee members estimate their publicly owned community network will launch in July as they bring better Internet access to the town of about 1,000 people. After more than three years of seeking a way to high-quality Internet access, delivery of the hut was a physical manifestation of the hard work needed to make this goal happen. Committee member Sue Dunbar told the Greenfield Recorder, “It’s a huge, big brick visual reminder to the town residents, who have been waiting for so long, that this is a reality.”

There's Always Ups and Downs

The project has not been without snags. Underestimates of make ready costs, partly due to long driveways for some potential subscribers, drove up deployment costs, which are still not finalized at around $3 million. A few property owners had opposed new utility poles on or near their property, which hampered a smooth deployment. The fact that the state’s Department of Conservation & Recreation owns swaths of New Salem also interfered with the process by adding an additional level of approval to pole installation.

According to Dunbar, however, New Salem is collaborating with nearby Shutesbury and Wendell, and that collaboration is helping to improve the deployment process. All three communities have contracted with WG+E to build their publicly owned networks. Wendell expects to begin connecting premises in the fall, while Shutesbury is aiming for a May launch. 

Readers may remember that Shutesbury was one of the communities that sent Charter packing when the corporate ISP proposed to serve fewer than all the homes in the community...

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Posted January 2, 2019 by lgonzalez

The small town of Windsor is joining the list of communities in western Massachusetts who are taking measures to improve local connectivity with publicly owned Internet infrastructure. The town of fewer than 1,000 people anticipates connecting all residents and businesses before the end of 2019.

Grants Are So Good

Windsor is benefitting from a grant of more than $886,000 from the FCC Connect America Fund, to be distributed over a 10-year period. Six other Berkshire County communities will also receive funding from the FCC; Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) applied for the funding on behalf of the region’s communities. In total, the seven towns will receive more than $2.45 million during the next decade to improve local broadband. The Westfield utility has been working with its neighbors in recent years in different capacities, including as an ISP, network operator, and as consultants.

Community leaders originally estimated Windsor’s planned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network would cost approximately $2.3 million. Select Board Member Doug McNally said that the community may use the award from the FCC to help pay down debt to deploy the network or may be used directly to help residents who have long driveways, requiring more individual investment to connect to the town’s network.

Windsor also received approximately $830,000 from the state in 2017 and previously approved borrowing to fund deployment. Windsor had planned to work with the WiredWest cooperative, until the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) put up several hurdles that interfered with the cooperative’s ability to realize their business model. WiredWest has revamped what it plans to offer member towns and, according to McNally, Windsor may contract with the co-op for Internet access and operate the network.

If Windsor chooses WiredWest, subscribers could choose between symmetrical packages of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $59 per month or 1 gigabit per second for $75 per month. Voice service would cost an additional $19 per month. All subscribers also pay an additional $99 activation fee.

The community could,...

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Posted December 13, 2018 by lgonzalez

The people of Charlemont, Massachusetts, are ready to pay approximatly $1.5 million to own broadband infrastructure rather than shell over $462,000 to Comcast for cable Internet access in their community. At a packed December 6th town meeting, voters showed up to handily defeat the proposal from the cable giant and express their support for a publicly owned fiber optic network.

Making the Best Choice for Charlemont

According to Robert Handsaker, who chairs the Charlemont Broadband Committee, the standing room only crowd at the local school defeated the Comcast proposal by a 20 percent margin. He went on to state that the town already has a design prepared, which it developed with Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E). WG+E has been working with approximately 20 western Massachusetts towns interested in publicly owned broadband networks in several different capacities, including consulting and design. Having developed their own network, WhipCity Fiber, the Westfield utility is now offering skills as a consultant and as a network operator to nearby communities.

The Comcast proposal required Charlemont to kick in more than $462,000 while only serving 96 percent of the community. Ownership of the infrastructure would have remained with the national company. The city has been exploring options for at least two years, after plans for the broadband cooperative Wired West changed. When voters at a 2015 town meeting voted to approve borrowing for the project, community leaders considered Leverett’s financing model, using moderate property taxes to fund the project.

In the warrant article fact sheet comparing the two proposals side by side, Charlemont plans rates for $79 per month for symmetrical gigabit stand alone Internet access unless the local take rate falls below 40 percent, in which case it would increase to $99 per month. Comcast service would cost from $61 - $311 per month depending on speeds, with 100 Megabits per second (Mbps)...

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Posted December 11, 2018 by lgonzalez

By the time a local community is ready to light up their municipal fiber optic network, they’ve already invested several years' worth of debate, investigation, and energy. While deploying a network is certainly a complicated task, educating the community, growing support, and helping elected officials determine the best approach is equally difficult. What’s it like in the early stages for those visionaries who feel that their city or town needs a publicly owned option?

This week we find out from Chicopee’s Joel McAuliffe, Councilor for Ward 1. He’s been advocating for a municipal broadband network for several years and his message is growing. In addition to working to educate his fellow council members about the need for local high-speed Internet access, Joel has reached out to folks in the community. Last fall, he encouraged citizens to sign an online petition supporting the proposal and to contact their elected officials to urge them to move forward on the matter.

Joel describes how the city has certain advantages that he’d like to capitalize on for a citywide fiber network. He talks about local concerns that are driving the effort, such as high rates and poor services, and that with a municipal network to offer competition, he believes Chicopee can attract new business and new residents from the Boston area. Chris and Joel also discuss the challenges for a city council in making decisions based on technology when they are not well-versed in those technologies.

When Joel introduced his petition to the community, he also published...

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Posted November 21, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

Ninety miles west of Boston, the small town of South Hadley, Massachusetts, will soon have a new, municipal option for Internet access. In October, the South Hadley Electric Light Department (SHELD) Board of Commissioners unanimously approved plans to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network throughout the town of 17,000. The network would bring high-speed fiber connectivity to South Hadley businesses and residents, who can currently choose between Comcast and Verizon for Internet access, while also enabling the municipal electric utility to implement smart grid technologies.

SHELD has been considering offering fiber optic Internet access to residents for several years. After hiring the current General Manager, Sean Fitzgerald, in 2017, management started to seriously examine the possibility of building a FTTH network. “What we’ve really been focused on this last year and a half,” Fitzgerald shared at the SHELD Board of Commissioners meeting, “is being diligent in reviewing the costs, the risks, the economic benefits for our customers and the South Hadley community at large.” In approving the network, Commissioner Vern Blodgett said, “SHELD is really ready financially and management-wise to take on a project like this.”

Smart Grid, Economic Development Benefits

One reason for SHELD’s interest in a fiber network is the potential to deploy Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI). While evaluating plans to provide Internet access, electric department management realized that current meters needed to be replaced, providing a perfect opportunity to upgrade to smart meter technology that could be integrated into the fiber network. This technology could help the utility better manage the electric grid load and respond to outages, ultimately saving SHELD money and improving customer experience. “It’s the future [of electric service],” Fitzgerald explained to the board. “If your power goes out, we will know maybe even before you do.”

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Posted October 29, 2018 by lgonzalez

We came across this cool video shared by Taunton Municipal Light Plant (TMLP) in Taunton, Massachusetts, and wanted to share it. This quick vid reminds us that, even though the Internet may seem like “magic” because it connects us with other continents, it’s actually science, work, and investment.

BTW, What's Up in Taunton?

When we last checked in with TMLP in March 2018, they had just implemented a fiberhood approach to sign up residential subscribers. According to their website, people are responding; nine neighborhoods are connected and almost two dozen others are accepting applications. Once 25 percent of premises have submitted their applications for installation, TMLP provides a timeline for installation in the area. Eight neighborhoods in Taunton are already connected.

Taunton began with fiber connectivity for businesses in 1997 and began residential services by offering their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to an apartment complex. The complex and the first neighborhood they connected were situated near the community high school, already served by TMLP. Other institutions, such as a local hospital and associated clinics have also been signed up with TMLP fiber for years.

Keeping the Community Up to Speed, Affordably

TMLP offers symmetrical connectivity at either $34.95 per month for 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) or $69.95 per month for 1 gigabit. They also offer VoIP service for $19.95 per month. Like many other publicly owned networks that have opted not to offer video services, TMLP is finding ways to educate the public about viewing options. They recently held a workshop on cutting the cord at the local library and have resources on their website for users interested on learning more.

There are about 57,000 people living in Taunton, the county seat of Bristol County. While the history of the community's economy goes back to shipbuilding and silversmithing, today Taunton has an active semiconductor, silicon and electronics manufacturing base. 

Check it out the Business Insider video on intercontinental connectivity:

...

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Posted October 25, 2018 by lgonzalez

Chicopee, Massachusetts, is on its way to better connectivity through a publicly owned network after all. Chicopee Electric Light (CEL) has announced that the municipal utility plans to develop a pilot program yet this year to experiment with business connectivity. If all goes well, they have a long-term vision to also serve residents.

Remember That Resolution You Introduced?

Last week, we reported that at a recent meeting, City Councilor Joel McAuliffe had presented a resolution seeking support for a municipal network. Rather than pass it, however, the council referred the resolution on to the Utilities Committee for further review. McAuliffe created an online petition to show his colleagues on the council that their constituents supported a publicly owned network.

According to local outlet The Reminder, as the issue of municipal connectivity became a hot topic, CEL decided it was time to release news of their plan to launch a pilot project.

CEL General Manager Jeff Cady said, “We’re a municipal utility and operate in the best interest of our stakeholders, the rate payers. We’re going to operate our Internet service in the same way. We’re going to start slowly, providing service to a handful of businesses to iron out any issues.”

Cady went on to tell The Reminder that, even though the feasibility study was a few years old, the data was still valid and CEL are close to finalizing their plans.

CEL has already decided on a name for the service: Crossroads Fiber. The network will be deployed in phases, with businesses closest to existing fiber assets scheduled to be the first for connection. Approximately 70 percent of businesses in Chicopee are already near the community’s existing fiber and some are already receiving service through an agreement between CEL and Holyoke Gas & Electric. Once the initial pilot project is completed and CEL has had a chance to discover and resolve any issues, they anticipate expanding the pilot area in 2019.

Residents Won't Have to Wait Too Long

Cady said that CEL envisions a similar pilot project for Crossroads Fiber residential Internet access in the summer of 2019. The service...

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Posted October 18, 2018 by lgonzalez

The people of Egremont have had it with Charter Spectrum and their shenanigans. After the latest issue pushed them too far, the town’s Select Board voted to give the company the boot.

How Much?

Charter Spectrum had proposed connecting 96 percent of Egremont’s households for approximately $1.185 million, the lion’s share to be funded by a Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) last mile grant. The company, however, had not calculated make-ready costs correctly until after making their proposal. After examining the situation in Egremont, Charter Spectrum has almost doubled the estimate for the project to $2.285 million.

The difference Charter Spectrum says, is due to the need to replace 150 poles, which they say are not tall enough to accommodate their infrastructure. Charter Spectrum puts the blame on local company Fiber Connect, which has been deploying fiber in Egremont and other Berkshire towns. The national company says that Fiber Connect’s fiber optic cable has filled any room on the poles for Charter Spectrum cables.

MBI isn’t willing to fill the $1.1 million gap created by Charter Spectrum and neither is the company. Peter Larkin from MBI attended the October 15th meeting and presented an MBI proposal, in which the town would pay for half of the gap and MBI would cover the remaining $600,000. Locals at the meeting were less than thrilled.

Unexplained Deal

With a population of only around 1,200 people, the news from MBI topped off an already long and frustrating process to bring high-quality Internet access to the rural town. Egremont had planned to joined Wired West, the broadband cooperative of western Massachusetts towns, but later opted to work with the national cable provider. Ever since the decision, they’ve experienced delays in negotiations, often because Charter Spectrum has remained elusive about where exactly they plan to deploy and which premises would be left out.

Fiber Connect had also proposed building out in Egremont, and a significant portion of the community has expressed support for the local company. MBI, however, has denied grant funds to Fiber Connect, citing it’s five-year record as...

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Posted October 12, 2018 by lgonzalez

Sometimes city councils don’t quite have their fingers on the pulse of their constituents. It can be difficult to know what everyone wants, so there are instances when taking a direct approach it the best way to share our thoughts. In Chicopee, Massachusetts, City Councilor Joel McAuliffe is giving constituents from across the city a chance to express their support for municipal broadband with an online petition…and people are responding.

Read the petition here.

More Wait and See

McAuliffe took the unorthodox approach after his colleagues on the governing body voted not to support his resolution to move forward on municipal broadband for Chicopee. Instead, they decided to refer the resolution to the Utilities Committee for further review. He decided to create the petition, he said, because other councilors stated that they have not heard from their constituents about the issue.

Members of the council didn’t react favorably to the resolution, several wondering what consequences would await them and the city if they committed themselves if they passed it. Others stated that they weren’t against municipal broadband, but wanted more information before moving ahead, especially related to cost, funding, and whether or not the city could afford the investment.

In 2015, the city hired consultants to complete a feasibility study. The results concluded that the city would benefit from a publicly owned fiber optic network for several reasons. In addition to the fact that many in the community now obtain Internet access via Verizon DSL or Charter Spectrum, the survey shows that households in Chicopee tend to use more than the national average number of Internet- connected devices. As the community moves forward, consultants warned, stress on the already overtaxed copper infrastructure will only increase.

Chicopee owns an operates a municipal electric utility, which gives the town an advantage should they decide to also invest in Internet access infrastructure. Consultants estimate the cost of citywide deployment will reach between $30 and $35 million, but McAuliffe believes the community...

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Posted August 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Lobbyists from the cable and telecom industry succeeded in using the legislature to firm up their rural Massachusetts monopolies this session. Communities that rely on state funds for local publicly owned broadband infrastructure projects now face restrictions on the reach of their high-speed networks.

A Long Trip Through the Legislature

Governor Charlie Baker’s economic development bill includes a provision designating funding for the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) and the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development for broadband deployment. The agencies distribute the funds to various communities where residents and businesses plan to improve their local connectivity. Approximately 20 towns have decided to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, including Alford, Otis, and Mount Washington, to name a few. Others are taking offers from Comcast and Charter, which will build out networks to more premises with state funding. 

Many of the rural communities who are going with the publicly owned option want to connect households and establishments within the town proper, but also what they describe as “edge” properties — those beyond town limits but have no other choice for broadband. Edge properties in western Massachusetts typically don’t have access to anything better than expensive and unreliable satellite or dial-up. Often, there are only a few “edge” properties in each community, but neighbors don’t want to leave anyone behind. 

Baker’s bill began its trip through the state legislature in March and, as is the case with typical large bills, went through numerous hearings along the way. Over the course of the legislative process, a question arose as to whether or not those rural towns wanting to serve edge properties would be able to use state funding to reach edge properties. In the original version of the bill, language specifically allowed municipalities the right to cross municipal borders to serve edge properties, but when the telecom industry opposed the language, it was removed in the House. The action left an ambiguous gap that Gail...

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