Tag: "massachusetts"

Posted February 20, 2012 by becca

Cape Cod brings thoughts of ocean waves and wind swept beaches. OpenCape and SmarterCape Partnership want to add “really fast pipe” to that image.

This winter, crews have begun installing over 300 miles of fiber optic lines [pdf] connecting 70 anchor institutions in the region. A few customers may be able to get service as early as this summer, and the network will be fully deployed by early 2013. It is middle mile infrastructure, which is to say it is intended to be the link between the Internet backbone and organizations and businesses that serve end users.

OpenCape began in 2006, when leaders of several Cape academic and research institutions met to compare notes on their telecommunications needs and wants. Dan Gallagher, as CIO of Cape Cod Community College, was paying about $3,750 per month for 3 T-1 lines to serve 5,000 students, plus faculty and administration. The CIO of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute was searching for a way to meet his organization’s needs for symmetric data transfer. As is typical for remote or geographically challenging areas, moderate bandwidth was very expensive, and the high capacity connections needed for modern computing applications were not available at any price. The Cape region also lacked a data center, which is necessary for redundant communications and network power systems.

Everyone at the meeting recognized their region had an infrastructure problem. As Gallagher, now CEO of OpenCape, puts it, “If you weren’t on a canal, if you didn’t get a train station, you wouldn’t survive. Today, broadband is that infrastructure.”

Further discussions ensued within the founding group and throughout the community. They looked to projects like Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative, and thought about what would best fit their region.

At some point in the process of building and financing a new infrastructure, a decision is made about who will finance and own it. Ownership was a central part of the discussions from the beginning. “Long ago, we decided that roads are the domain of government,” says Gallagher. “We gave power to highly regulated...

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Posted September 23, 2011 by christopher

An interesting article earlier this week on Boston.com says a number of Massachusetts towns are studying muni electric plants after the privately owned electrical company took too long restoring power in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

“We are at the very beginning. We want to see if municipal control is even possible,’’ said Norwell Town Administrator James Boudreau.

“We want a faster response. This was a tropical storm. What if it was a category 2 hurricane? What if it was the winter?’’ he said, noting the efficient restoration of power in towns with electric utilities under municipal control, such as Hingham, Hull, and Braintree.

Braintree's municiple utility also runs a broadband network for the community. If these communities are looking at am uni utility, they should ceratinly consider improving their broadband access at the same time. As we have covered previously, Wired West (on the other side of the state) is a collection of many communities that recently formed municipal "light plants" (in the parlance of Massachuesetts) as a legal structure for building a community fiber network.

As we have observed time and time again, local control tends to improve the quality and response time of customer service. And in those cases where it doesn't, at least they have no one to blame but themselves. It is well within their power to fix it.

Curiously, National Grid was formed by combining privatized former muni electric utilities -- a warning to communities that may look to privatize their community broadband networks over time due to the mistaken notion that community ownership was only necessary to establish the network rather than ensure it continues operating for the benefit of the community. Community broadband is about far more than technology, it is about ownership by an entity with the right incentives to operate essential infrastructure.

The company's response to this movement is fascinating:

National Grid offers a different opinion. Communities are “best served by a company with established practices, resources, and programs that can serve them in an evolving, challenging energy environment,’’ said Deborah Drew, a spokeswoman for the utility.

Say what? When presented...

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Posted August 9, 2011 by christopher

Very good news continues to come from Wired West. From a press release:

August 13th will be a historic occasion for many Western Massachusetts towns, as they form a joint cooperative to build and operate a state-of-the-art telecommunications network for residents and businesses. Founding member towns have traditionally been unserved or underserved by existing broadband providers. The new Cooperative, called WiredWest, will create a community-owned network offering high quality internet, phone and television services to member towns.

Today, most WiredWest towns have only partial coverage from limited-bandwidth broadband technologies. WiredWest's goal is not only to create fair access to broadband for all member town residents, but also to provide very high-quality services on a reliable, state-of-the-art network that will meet the escalating bandwidth requirements of businesses and home owners, and provide enough capacity for many decades.

The proposed WiredWest network will connect to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute's middle-mile fiber-optic infrastructure to create a robust network from end to end.

Twenty-three Western Massachusetts towns have taken the necessary steps to join the WiredWest co-operative by passing votes in two consecutive town meetings. Seventeen additional towns are in the process of voting and are expected to join the Cooperative over the next year. A map of WiredWest towns and their progress can be viewed on the WiredWest website.

The WiredWest Cooperative is utilizing "Municipal Light Plant" legislation, initially drafted in 1906, when rural towns faced a similar crisis of access to fundamental services from a lack of electricity. In 1996, the provision of telecommunications services was added to the statute, which enables municipalities to build and operate broadband services in the Commonwealth.

The leadership team and working groups are focused on finalizing a business plan, putting financing together and early network planning. The group recently received a $50,000 planning grant from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, and has also raised additional funding from local businesses and individuals to assist with start-up requirements.

The incorporation will take place in Cummington, a town in the geographic center of WiredWest's territory.

Posted July 23, 2011 by christopher

We have long followed the efforts of rural communities in western Massachusetts to form the Wired West network. They will soon wrap up the town meeting season and have a sense of how many local towns are a part of the initial project. But if you aren't already familiar with the project, the Daily Yonder offers a background article.

Midway through the broadband stimulus program in early 2010, several western Massachusetts towns recognized this danger and decided to form WiredWest to take matters into their own hands. These communities believe “control of the network needs to stay in the hands of the community,” states Co-Chair and spokesperson Monica Webb, of Monterey, MA. “Private providers just cherry pick the best subscribers and offer empty promises to the rest of us.”

WiredWest structured itself legally as a "cooperative of municipal light plants," a designation created by a 100-year-old law that enabled towns to distribute their own electricity. This designation allows towns to own telecom services within existing legislative guidelines and use municipal bonds to fund the network, and it grants individuals and businesses tax deductions when they donate to WiredWest. WiredWest also can provide Internet access service without being required to provide cable TV services. Hilltown Community Dev Corp. is a second community co-op in the area and it is designated as a fiduciary able to apply for grants on WiredWest’s behalf. Once WiredWest officially launches this month, it will have the legal authority to apply for grants, contract with providers, and take other actions.

WiredWest early on took stock of its needs, learning how to recruit additional towns to join the coalition. “Of the 47 towns now in WiredWest, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and Comcast are only in seven,” says Webb. “There are two or three WISPs, (wireless Internet service providers) but getting coverage into many places requires lots of towers and repeaters that makes this option expensive. Some towns can make the coverage-to-cost work, but others tried to no avail.”

Posted May 11, 2011 by christopher

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...

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Posted March 26, 2011 by christopher

Something for other communities to learn from!

Posted January 12, 2011 by christopher

A group of towns in rural western Massachusetts, having already decided on a cooperative structure, have now started the process of joining the coop in order to eventually build an open access FTTH network to serve everyone in each of the member towns.

Originally, the Wired West towns looked to a similar project in Vermont, East Central Vermont Fiber Network, for guidance but found Massachusetts law did not allow them to use the same joint powers agreement approach. After researching Massachusetts law, they found a law previously used by towns to form "light plants" for electrification. In more modern times, the law had been amended to allow such an entity to offer cable television and telecom services. Of the forty muni light plants in Massachusetts, some four provide telecom services.

In order to join the coop, a town has to twice pass a 2/3 vote by those in attendance at a town meeting. The meeting must be no less than 2 months apart and no more than 13 months apart. In talking with folks from Wired West, this approach appears to be unique to Massachusetts.

From the Wired West site:

Passing the MLP legislation creates a new town department, and does not require a town to produce or sell electricity. The Selectboard can choose to oversee its MLP department themselves or appoint a three to five member board. This group is responsible for appointing a manager, making decisions around the town’s participation and representation in the WiredWest Cooperative, and filing annually with the State.

Creating the MLP incurs no cost to the town. If a town decides to join the WiredWest Cooperative, there will be a membership fee of not more than $1,000 per town.

The coop requires at least 2 towns, but that does not appear to be doubt. The towns to consider it thus far have been enthusiastic - Wired West has a helpful map showing where local towns stand in the process. In general, Wired West is an excellent example of how community groups can use a website to keep people...

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Posted October 1, 2010 by christopher

Back in 1998, the Braintree Electric Light Department (Massachusetts) built an HFC network for remote monitoring of their electrical services. In 1999, they extended the network to become the first broadband provider in town.

With about 1,500 Internet customers solely from word-of-mouth advertising, BELD staff looked to expand the offerings from its HFC network. In 2000, a cable television plan and $3.5 million bond issue were approved at Town meeting. State-of-the-art digital cable service was launched before the end of that year, and by the end of 2001, BELD was serving 4,000 cable and nearly 3,000 Internet customers.

As a measure of their success, citizens just voted BELD Broadband the top ISP of the area for the 3rd year in a row ...

The town also voted the department Best Cable TV Provider (for the second year) and Best Phone Service in 2010, casting votes via BestOfSurveys.com with Market Surveys of America, an independent survey company and member of the Better Business Bureau.

You can follow BELD Broadband on twitter.

Posted September 16, 2010 by christopher

Western Massachusetts' Wired West is an exciting approach to bringing next-generation broadband networks to rural areas. Thanks to Design Nine's news blog for alerting me to this decision.

For those unfamiliar with our coverage of Wired West, a two page write-up in Berkshire Trade & Commerce Monthly [pdf] offers a good background:

“You often hear that it is too expensive to bring fiber-optic lines to every home, business and institution in a rural area," said Webb, who lives in the remote southern Berkshire town of Monterey. “But that only means it’s too expensive for the business model of private-sector companies who have to show profitability in a very short period. It is not too too expensive if it is done by the communities themselves on a basis that does not have to meet those market demands."

Wired West has announced a decision on the difficult issue of governance structure. They are going to be a public co-operative, comprised of the member towns.

Now the member towns will have to approve the structure and the organization will move forward on the planning necessary to develop, finance, and build their broadband network.

Posted July 9, 2010 by christopher

The end of June brought an end to an initial phase of the Wired West campaign for real broadband in rural Massachusetts. When we previously looked in on the Wired West efforts, they had 39 towns supporting the idea.

By June 26th, that number had grown to 47.

The local paper outlined the overwhelming support and next steps.

Once the non-profit has been formed, financing options would have to be identified, and preliminary design and cost estimate work would start.

None of the cost of the project would be borne by the towns, Webb said.

Ongoing maintenance cost and debt service payments would come from money paid to the agency by the service providers, added Andrew Michael Cohill, president of Design Nine, a consultancy hired to help WiredWest through the next phase of development.

A previous article discussed a cost estimate of the network and how much money residents send outside their community for service.

Monica Webb, a spokesperson for WiredWest, said that a consultant who met last year with representatives from Mount Washington and 10 other towns in southern Berkshire County estimated the cost of building a fiber-optic network for that region at $27 million.

But, Webb said, the consultant calculated that the roughly 12,000 households in the region were already paying an average of $125 a month for Internet and other telecommunication services – an amount that adds up to $18 million a year that people “are putting in an envelope and sending outside of your region.”

The most recent announcement relating to the project discusses how a recent federal broadband stimulus grant to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute will aid the Wired West network.

This will enable a robustmiddle-mile network to be built by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) in Western and North-Central Massachusetts that will serve 123 communities. This wholesale network will bring MBI’s...

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