Tag: "massachusetts"

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...

Read more
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...

Read more
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...

Read more
Posted July 27, 2018 by Hannah Bonestroo

The City of Westfield in western Massachusetts recently launched a new marketing initiative designed to attract business and promote sustainable growth. The GoWestfield campaign features a website and promotional video that focuses on showcasing the many incentives for businesses that the small city of around 41,500 offers, including an environment where businesses can thrive. As the city points out in the video, one of Westfield’s largest selling points is its high-speed fiber optic Internet network.

Check out the video:

Improvements at Home and the Office

Westfield’s locally owned municipal gas and electric company, Westfield Gas & Electric (WG+E) began using fiber optic connections to monitor substations and municipal facilities about 20 years ago. In 2015, the City launched a fiber optic Internet pilot program to about 300 homes and businesses using the existing network. The public Internet service, dubbed "Whip City Fiber," has since expanded its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to more neighborhoods and is taking applications in other areas of the city. 

While Westfield hopes that their new fiber network will attract more businesses, their new video highlights how existing local business are already experiencing positive impacts from the fiber. The co-owner of Westfield’s Circuit Coffee, Ted Dobek, said that people can now more easily come work at his coffee shop because his business connects to Whip City Fiber. Similarly, Al Liptak, the lead video producer at Kirby Productions, can now upload content at his studio ten times faster than with his old ISP. The production manager of Advance MFG, Co., Jeff Amanti, also has experienced the benefits, stating that the fiber has greatly helped the rate of data transfer at his precision manufacturing facility.

The GoWestfield Campaign grew as a partnership between the City of Westfield, Westfield Development, Westfield Bank, WG+E, and Whip City Fiber. While the initiative’s intent is to highlight many of Westfield’s...

Read more
Posted May 2, 2018 by lgonzalez

As Christopher rubbed elbows with other broadband advocates, policy wonks, and industry professionals at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas, he had the opportunity to interview several people we've been wanting to bring on the show. Saul Tannenbaum from Cambridge, Massachusetts, was at the event and he talked with Christopher about the citizen's group, Upgrade Cambridge. As one of the city's fiercest municipal network advocates, Saul started the group when city efforts at better connectivity hit a brick wall.

Saul and Christopher discuss the Cambridge community's own unique personality and how it lends itself to both positive forces and ingrained challenges in the effort to bring high-quality connectivity to a diverse city. With strong science, technology, and art sectors, Cambridge realizes that fiber is their best bet and the city has taken past steps to explore the possibilities. Political changes at the municipal level created a new hurdle and when it became obvious that only a strong local grassroots movement could keep the issue moving, he took on the role of organizer.

Learn more at the Upgrade Cambridge website, on Facebook, and @UpgradeCambMA. We're also following this grassroots effort and their strategy.

This show is 27 minutes long  and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

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

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. ...

Posted April 19, 2018 by lgonzalez

On April 14th, folks in Alford, Massachusetts, gathered at their fire house to attend a presentation about the bright future of their connectivity. After a long journey to find better connectivity in the small western Massachusetts town, residents and businesses are now subscribing to Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) Internet access from AlfordLink, their own municipal network.

Years Of Work

With only around 500 residents in Alford, it’s no surprise that big incumbents decided the lack of population density didn’t justify investment in 21st century connectivity. By 2012 and 2013, the community had had enough; they decided to pursue their own solution with a municipal network. Alford voted to form a Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the entity that that manages publicly owned networks in Massachusetts.

In addition to the $1.6 million the town decided to borrow to spend on fiber optic infrastructure, the town will also receive around $480,000 in state grant funds. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) is handling distribution of funds to Alford and other towns that have decided to use the funding to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure.

Alford, Blandford, and Shutesbury, are a few of the hilltowns contracting with Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) in Westfield. WG+E’s WhipCity Fiber began by serving only Westfield, but now contracts with other small towns to either assist them as they establish their own telecommunications utilities or to provide Internet access and operate a publicly owned network. In very small communities like Alford, they may not feel they have the resources or expertise to manage a gigabit network, but don’t want to relinquish control of their connectivity to an untrustworthy corporate incumbent.

Last year, Charter offered to take MBI funds and build a network in Shutesbury that the company would own and control. The town rejected the offer for the hybrid fiber coaxial network,...

Read more
Posted March 13, 2018 by lgonzalez

We’ve reported on many communities where citizen grassroots groups mobilized to implement change for better connectivity which often resulted in publicly owned Internet networks. Each community is different and some places require a more active group of advocates to bring change. A group of citizens in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have been working to bring attention to their community’s need for better options for several years. Recently, they formed Upgrade Cambridge, as a way to share information and spread the word about their initiative for a publicly owned fiber optic network.

Organic Organizing

Local Saul Tannebaum has consistently led efforts to bring municipal fiber infrastructure to Cambridge. Tannenbaum is one of eight individuals that are on the Upgrade Cambridge steering committee. He recently told the Cambridge Day:

“This grew completely organically. Folks starting contacting me in January asking what was going on with broadband and how they could help. People pulled in others in their own networks and the effort just took off…The city already knows how the Broadband Task force feels about this. It’s time for them to hear from others.”

In 2014, the City Manager appointed the Cambridge Broadband Task Force, which developed recommendations that they presented in 2016; Tannenbaum was a member of the task force. According to the founders of Upgrade Cambridge, the lack of response from the City Manager is driving the formation of the group. They feel that if community leaders hear from everyday Cambridge citizens and realize the magnitude of the problem, city leaders will feel more compelled to act.

The city also hired a consultant who recommended that Cambridge develop a dark fiber network, but find a private sector ISPs to provide last mile connectivity to businesses and residents via the city owned fiber. Another recommendation from the consultant in 2016 was that the city provide last mile fiber only to the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) locations. The task force disagreed with these recommendations.

The Cambrige Broadband Task Force also felt that the consultant recommendation was inadequate and too general. They did...

Read more
Posted March 5, 2018 by lgonzalez

Businesses in Taunton, Massachusetts, already have access to fiber optic connectivity offered by Taunton Municipal Light Plant (TMLP). In an effort to bring better connectivity to the rest of the community, TMLP is now connecting residents through a “fiberhood” approach.

The Process

TMLP’s customer base already consists of about 20 percent residential customers; they now serve about 450 premises. When the community decided to invest in the infrastructure in1997, the focus was on bringing high-quality connectivity to local businesses. Now, TMLP hopes to expand its network to nearby communities’ residents with $69.95 per month symmetrical gigabit FTTH service. TMLP will also offer Internet access at $34.95 per month for symmetrical 50 Megabit per second (Mbps) service and voice services for $19.95 per month. They will not offer video service.

In order to determine which areas will receive service next, TMLP is asking potential subscribers to sign up at their website to express interest. Once a designated area achieves a 25 percent level of interest, residents can submit applications for installation at their homes. When applications have been approved, TMLP begins deployment in their neighborhood.

Time To Branch Out

Currently, TMLP offers FTTH to one apartment complex and a neighborhood near the high school. The city’s school system obtains connectivity from TMLP, as does a local hospital and its clinics. TMLP wants to expand to neighborhoods in Raynham, Berkley, North Dighton, and Lakeville. 

Officials expect brisk demand and comments from local residents confirm that expectation:

“Wish they’d come to the Whittenton area...(TMLP Online is) much more affordable, especially for those who don’t wish to have television and only want WiFi or for those who live alone and need a very basic, simple package deal,” said Michelle Gaoulette, a Taunton resident.

The small number of residential subscribers who live in the areas where FTTH is available seem to appreciate it:

“We have it and love it... it’s...

Read more
Posted February 15, 2018 by lgonzalez

The community of Peabody, Massachusetts, plans to invest in a fiber optic loop as a first step toward better local connectivity.

From I-Net To My Net 

While the infrastructure plans are in place to serve only municipal facilities, city leaders have their eyes on the long-term, which means encouraging competition for their city of about 52,000 people. Peabody's located around 30 minutes northeast of Boston in the North Shore region. Currently, Comcast offers services to residents and businesses, but the cable company doesn’t enjoy much good will in the city.

More than a few communities that now offer varying levels of service to the public began by first developing an Institutional Network (I-Net). As in Santa Monica, a city or county can reduce costs significantly and redirect those savings toward investment, which allows them to later expand both the physical network and the fiber usage into a revenue generating asset. Other communities that have used this strategy include Arlington, Virginia; Hudson, Ohio; and Scott County, Minnesota.

A Better Option

In Massachusetts, each community’s Municipal Light Plant (MLP) manages their electric utility and the municipal broadband service they may offer to residents and businesses. Typically, an MLP has over time developed a favorable reputation with the people it serves, unlike large distant cable companies that aren’t able to provide quality customer service. In Peabody, the community enjoys a good relationship with its MLP, so locals are hoping that the publicly owned fiber project will eventually expand past its original intention. Rates are reasonable in the city; the Peabody MLP announced a rate reduction at the start of 2018.

The Peabody project will first connect local schools, libraries, public safety and public works locations, and other municipal facilities. Local officials don’t have hard numbers, but they anticipate savings when the city no longer needs to lease lines or pay for connectivity from an ISP. The city is also concerned about how the repeal...

Read more
Posted January 9, 2018 by lgonzalez

Blandford, Massachusetts, will work with Westfield Gas & Electric (WG+E) to develop a publicly owned fiber optic network. In order to help get the project started, the state’s Last Mile Program has awarded Blandford a $1 million grant.

The funding grant is part of $45 million allocated to broadband infrastructure last fall. In November 2016, the Governor signed a bill that directed the funding to help improve connectivity in western and north central Massachusetts.

Blandford’s network will connect to approximately 96 percent of its premises, including all the residents located on the town's public roads. A little more than 1,200 people live in the town that covers about 53 square miles. The hilltown community is known for the Blandford Ski Area, which has operated for more than 80 years.

Working With Westfield

Blandford joins a list of other western Massachusetts communities looking to WG+E for their expertise and to act as project managers. WG+E trucks began working in Otis last June and the towns of Ashfield, Shutesbury, Goshen, Colrain, Rowe, Chesterfield, Alford, and Heath have also decided to work with WG+E.

Westfield announced almost a year ago that a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project had been so successful that they determined expanding the project to a citywide network made the most sense. Since then, they’ve been expanding one neighborhood at a time and are still working on covering the entire community of 42,000.

In the mean time, WG+E has also branched out to work with other communities like Blandford. They’ve helped prove that even small communities can establish high-quality Internet network infrastructure. WG+E have taken on differing roles with these other municipal partners, depending on what level of expertise the community seeks.

Learn more about WG+E’s network and their work with neighboring communities in...

Read more

Pages

Subscribe to massachusetts