Something for other communities to learn from!
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...Read more
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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...
While researching the Wired West Network in rural Massachusetts, I learned about another community broadband network. The little town of Warwick built a wireless network for itself; the story behind it gives a glimpse into the ways that the federal approach to broadband really fails small communities.
Miryam Ehrlick Williamson described their motivations and experiences. In 2008, after considering their options, they voted to borrow $40,000 in a town meeting (Warrick has 750 people) to build a simple wireless system that would be far superior to the existing options of dial-up and satellite (neither of which are a service that could properly be termed broadband). State and federal programs ostensibly meant to help towns in this position do little good:
We know about a USDA program meant to bring broadband to rural America. Our information is that most of the money has gone to suburban communities in Texas, and we don’t have a professional grant administrator to chase down any money that might be left.
We’re aware that the Massachusetts governor just signed a $40 million act establishing the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, to figure out how to bring broadband to unserved and underserved towns. We’re also aware that the money will go to vendors to develop regional systems and we don’t have the patience to wait the two or three years it will take for anyone to get around to thinking about maybe serving us.
Ultimately, the City was able to lend itself the money:
As it has turned out, we didn’t need to borrow — town financial officers found the funds without going to the bank for them. We got the necessary permits from the owners of two towers here, bought the equipment, got a couple of people trained to install the equipment, and turned on our first customers in March, 2009.
Between a local mountain and available cell tower, the topology apparently fits a fixed-wireless approach (at least for a significant part of the population). Nonetheless, they were well aware that the system would not have the reliability of robust wired networks - but occasional interference was vastly preferable to the status quo.
The plan expected to break even with as few as 15 households, but they have...Read more
A grassroots effort in the broadband desert of Western Massachusetts has been organizing local communities to build a publicly owned, open access FTTH network to everyone in the partner towns (universal access). This story notes that 33 Towns had joined the effort by early May, but the current map of supporting towns show 39 supporting towns now.
Some towns voted to join unanimously; very few have opted not to join the dialogue. Towns are asked to pass this proposed warrant article at their Town Meeting (a practice common in the New England area):
To see if the Town will vote to enter into immediate discussions with other Western Massachusetts municipalities with the intent of entering an inter-municipal agreement, by and through the Select Board, pursuant to Chapter 40, Section 4A of the Massachusetts General Laws, for the purpose of establishing a universal, open access, financially self-sustaining communication system for the provision of broadband service, including high-speed Internet access, telephone and cable television to the residents, businesses and institutions of these municipalities; or act in relation thereto.
The preamble to the warrant article [pdf] offers the context:
WiredWest Communications, a community broadband network representing citizens in more than 30 towns in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties, has studied how to make high-speed Internet access available to every household and business in our rural towns and has concluded that a universally-accessible, municipally-owned fiber-optic network, open to all providers, is the best solution. We believe that commercial Internet providers, such as Comcast and Verizon, will never expand significantly to reach unserved customers and will certainly never deliver universal coverage. Building it ourselves is our only alternative.
Participating towns will "be convened and pressing issues of governance and inter-municipal agreements will be addressed" in late June.
Though nothing is finalized (obviously), they explained one financing option in the...Read more
I added these links to our link section in the right column, but wanted to note them explicitly. One of the goals of this site is to catalog what groups around the country are organizing for better networks that put the community first - if you know of groups, please let us know.
In California's El Dorado County, the Camino Fiber Network Cooperative is seeking ways to finance building broadband to people who currently have no options. Thanks to Eldo Telecom for tipping me off.
In Massachusetts, many communities in the western half of the state have no or poor broadband access, which is why Wired West is investigating options for a publicly owned, open access network.
Evidently, the Comcast-provided I-Net in Norton - a city of nearly 20,000 west of the Cape - suffers frequent outages, outraging those who depend on it. The City has decided to build their own network (after originally hoping Verizon would fund it) to connect town offices, public safety, and school sites with fiber-optic cables.
Norton predicts significant savings from the new network - just as do hundreds of other cities that are building their own I-Nets to cut costs and dramatically improve services and reliability.
The projected costs are $116,000, according to this article.
Town Manager James Purcell said the main infrastructure that will be installed will be the beginning, and likened the expenditure to paying for the installation of a major sewer line with stubs to various buildings.
TMCNET interviews Jory Wolf - the CIO of Santa Monica's Information Systems Department - about their application for broadband stimulus funds. Santa Monica has long used its publicly owned network to expand broadband access in the community.
Our Santa Monica City Net and City WiFi (News - Alert) project will provide the equipment and connections required to expand the City’s free WiFi service that delivers Internet access to the public at our libraries, open space areas, community centers, homeless shelter, senior centers and animal shelters. In addition, our project will provide a connection to over 200 ISPs to obtain affordable broadband options to local businesses and increase the competitiveness of our country’s preeminent post-production companies and intellectual exports located in Santa Monica, Calif.
South Hadley, a small town in Massachusetts, may expand its modest fiber network (currently connecting schools, police, and town hall to others in town. Its municipal power company is evaluating options.
Baltimore City Paper ran a column discussing the Monticello, MN, city-owned network and the attacks against it by TDS Telecom. This accounting of the history has some errant details, but I found it fascinating how far the Monticello story has spread.