Tag: "wired west"

Posted September 19, 2017 by christopher

After a friendly coup in the offices of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Hannah has taken the podcast host chair from Christopher for episode 271 of the Community Broadband Bits. Hannah grills Christopher on where he has recently traveled, interesting lessons, and recent news around community broadband. (Christopher mentions a great event in Pittsfield - video available here.)

The conversation starts with a discussion of why recent travels strengthened our belief that full fiber-optic networks are the best approach for the vast majority of America in the long term. Christopher and Hannah discuss the future of low-latency networks and what is more cost-effective over decades rather than just over the first few years.

They go on to discuss their fears of the FCC legitimizing satellite and mobile wireless connectivity as good enough for carrier of last resort in rural regions. The show wraps up with a discussion about One Touch Make Ready in Louisville and Madison's RFP for a fiber network partner. 

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 on this page or via iTunes or 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 Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted June 27, 2017 by lgonzalez

People in Otis, Massachusetts, are now seeing utility crews make space for fiber optic cable on poles as they prepare for the community’s publicly owned Internet network. The schedule calls for cable installation in August; the network should start serving residents and businesses this fall.

Working With A Neighbor

Like several other hill towns in western Massachusetts, Otis is working with Westfield Gas + Electric’s WhipCity Fiber, which will handle construction of the network. WhipCity will construct the network in phases, connecting premises as neighborhoods are completed. The project will connect 1,687 premises and will cost approximately $5 million. 

Construction is finally able to commence because in May, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) released funding for last mile broadband networks to several towns that advocated for their own solutions. Otis received $1.7 million. Communities like Otis that chose to invest in publicly owned infrastructure are required to contribute to the cost of their network.

MBI chose to release the funds after a drawn out situation in which unserved and underserved communities in the western part of the state first planned to unite as a broadband cooperative, WiredWest. MBI was the administrator of approximately $50 million in federal stimulus and state grant funding but withheld the funds. They felt there were problems with the WiredWest business model, but local towns and municipal network experts did not share those concerns. Instead, MBI planned to dole out the funding to large incumbent providers, which angered many of the local communities that have expressed dissatisfaction with treatment by those very companies over the years. Comcast will still obtain large amounts of the grant money to build out in several of the smaller communities. Those small towns will not be required to contribute, but 100 precent of their premises are not always served and they will not own the infrastructure.

At least a dozen local communities did not want to work with Comcast or any other big incumbent, however, and instead wanted to... Read more

Posted April 4, 2017 by htrostle

In western Massachusetts, about 40 communities have spent nearly a decade trying to improve Internet service. Governor Baker recently took a step to help clear the way. He took $20 million out of the control of the struggling Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI).

Now, towns can apply for $20 million in infrastructure grants through the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development. MBI will now refocus on other projects, like managing its middle mile network and refining agreements with large cable companies.

The transition marks a change in state policy that many local communities have longed for because they've seen MBI as an obstacle, rather than an aid, to improving better connectivity.

Quick Turn Around for Grants

It’s a step in the right direction for towns that depend on slow DSL, expensive satellite, and even those that still use dial-up connections. Communities that belong to the WiredWest cooperative, which has been in negotiations with MBI for years on it business model, are especially glad to see the shift. In mid-March, local leaders and representatives from MBI and Housing & Economic Development met to discuss development of a new grant process. 

After that meeting, a WiredWest representative from Plainfield, Massachusetts, Kimberly Longey, told the local newspaper Berkshire Eagle:

"What we really need is the ability to have self-determination in this process. … We're cautiously optimistic. We think this is a good step. I have a feeling that things are lining up."

The Recorder and MassLive recently revealed some of the details of this new grant process. Procedure will follow the proven model of the Housing & Economic Development’s MassWorks program, which provides funding for major infrastructure projects like sewer and water systems.

The process will have clear guidelines and expectations, and each town can expect its application to be reviewed two weeks after filing. Grant funding will be disbursed within 30 days of a... Read more

Posted March 21, 2017 by lgonzalez

Even though they don't have to chip in any local funds, the town of Shutesbury, Massachusetts, rejected Charter’s proposal to build a hybrid fiber coaxial network in their community. They don’t consider the proposal a “good long-term solution to bring broadband to our town" and prefer to build a publicly owned fiber-optic network for future-proof technology, provider accountability, and local control.

You Get What You Pay For

Unlike Charter’s proposal to serve only 96 percent of the homes in the community, the town made a commitment to include all members of the community some time ago. Charter would not extend its proposal to include about three dozen properties that are further out unless the town committed to providing funds above and beyond what the state offered to provide as part of the proposal. Board of Selectmen Chair Michael Vinskey went on to tell MassLive that Charter would not commit to a specific cost for extending a network to those additional homes.

In the words of Vinskey, committing to such an ambiguous arrangement, “would not be fiscally responsible.” No kidding.

Shutesbury authorized spending for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network once already. In 2015, folks at the annual Town Meeting voted to approve $1.7 million in bonding to pay for the infrastructure. They’ll take another vote this May for the debt exclusion authorization, as required by state law.

Community leaders estimate deployment to every property at approximately $2.57 million. Their share of the state grants that are to be distributed by MBI come to $870,000 for construction and professional services. Like the community of Leverett, Shutesbury intends to use a modest property tax increase to fund the infrastructure investment. 

A basic subscription for Internet access at speeds higher than those proposed by Charter would cost approximately $75 per month and would not include video services but would include Voice over IP (VoIP) services. A number of the local communities in the western Massachusetts region have dealt with sub-par telephone services due to aging infrastructure.

Shutesbury wants... Read more

Posted March 13, 2017 by lgonzalez

Whip City Fiber has big plans to serve more residents in its hometown of Westfield, Massachusetts, and is already helping some of its neighbors as they seek better connectivity.

Expanding At Home

In February, Westfield City Council unanimously approved the municipal utility’s request for a $15 million bond to fund expansion to more areas of the city. Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity is currently available to approximately 15 percent of the city. The additional funds will allow Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E) to expand the network to about 70 percent of the community, or about 10,000 additional households. WG+E is planning the expansion on a two-year timeline.

As in the past, WG+E will use the “fiberhood” approach, giving priority to neighborhoods with the highest interest. They will also consider seasonal practicalities and the locations of existing infrastructure. According to their announcement, they will be installing overhead services this month and will begin underground installation when the ground thaws.

As Westfield’s FTTH has grown piece by piece, they’ve had opportunities to work out the rough patches and determine what challenges communities in western Massachusetts may face when they build out Internet networks. Now, WG+E is reaching out to other communities who are looking for guidance.

State Finally Releases Funding

A change in recent policy from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) has enabled Westfield and it's neighbors to have a little more control over their telecommunications future.

Since 2014, MBI has grappled with how it intends to distribute $50 million worth of state funding designated for communities in need of better connectivity. After several changes in policy, the agency required rural towns to get approval from MBI for business plans and to work with the organization before they could receive funding. The agency and the state have been widely criticized for its heavy-handed, yet slow-footed approach.

In February, representatives from a number of rural towns let MBI officials... Read more

Posted December 31, 2016 by lgonzalez

Charlemont, Massachusetts, is asking local businesses and residents to complete a survey to help their Broadband Committee as they move ahead with plans to improve connectivity. At a November information session, the Committee announced that the town would investigate options and pursue plans to deploy a municipal network. They plan to take advantage of state and federal funding administered by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI).

Plans Change

The western town of about 1,200 people intended to work with WiredWest, the broadband cooperative that planned to build a regional network, but MBI interfered with the plans and revoked funding from the group early in 2016. MBI objected to the WiredWest plan to operate as a cooperative of Municipal Light Plants (MLPs), the entity in each community responsible for managing its municipal network. You can read more details about the situation in an April 2016 report from the Berkman Center’s David Talbot, Waide Warner, and Susan Crawford.

Since then, MBI has created criteria for local communities to meet before they can access funding to build their own municipal networks. A number of local communities that once considered membership in WiredWest are moving forward and releasing RFPs, including Alford, Egremont, and Mount Washington. Before Charlemont gets that far, however, they want to find out exactly what the need is in their community.

Looking To Leverett

Like other western Massachusetts towns, Charlemont is looking at Leverett as a possible model. Leverett is home to approximately 1,800 people and chose to use a modest property... Read more

Posted July 20, 2016 by lgonzalez

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.

Posted June 10, 2016 by lgonzalez

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.

Posted June 6, 2016 by htrostle

In western Massachusetts, 44 small towns continue the push for high-speed, high-quality Internet access. WiredWest (a cooperative of these town’s municipal light plants) has been ramping up the pressure on the state. They need funding to build a regional network, but a state agency has been reluctant to distribute money.

To update everyone on the ever-changing situation, WiredWest has launched a revamped website, focusing on the latest news and most relevant information. Bookmark WiredWest.net to keep informed.

WiredWest and MBI? It’s A Long Story

WiredWest began in 2010 as folks gathered together to bring better connectivity to their unserved and underserved communities.  They wanted a regional Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network that would bring future-proof fiber optic technology into their homes. After years of working on business plans and creating a governance structure to represent all the towns, WiredWest hit a major roadblock erected by a state agency.

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) is in charge of distributing state funding to project that will improve Internet access in the state. Previously, the agency had built a middle-mile network (which connects community anchor institutes and could serve as a backbone for FTTH networks). When WiredWest asked for state funding to help develop its fiber infrastructure, MBI stalled the process – to the point that even the governor’s administration got involved. The agency has made some decisions about which projects it will help fund, but its choices have been criticized.

A Berkman Center case study, WiredWest: a Cooperative of Municipalities Forms to Build A Fiber Optic Network, delved into the story of WiredWest. 

... Read more

Posted April 20, 2016 by lgonzalez

In 2010, communities in rural western Massachusetts began a group that would evolve into the WiredWest Cooperative. Over the past six years, the group, formed to bring better last-mile connectivity to the unserved and underserved areas of the state, has faced a number of challenges. Most recently, disagreements with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), the state agency tasked with distributing funds for last-mile connectivity, have threatened WiredWest's regional cooperative model.

In a new report released by the Berkman Center, authors David Talbot, Waide Warner, and Susan Crawford share the story of these communities' attempt to band together to establish a fiber-optic network.

In WiredWest: a Cooperative of Municipalities Forms to Build A Fiber Optic Network, we learn not only how this region came together, but how they developed their business plan and procured funding, how they anticipate the network to affect affordability, and the ways they have adjusted the plan as circumstances required. The authors also take the time to share some history of cooperatives, and address how the cooperative model - used in the past for electricity and telephone - can benefit the communities in rural western Massachusetts.

Key Findings from the report:

  • WiredWest enabled dozens of small towns to come together through a unified structure and a shared vision of citizen cooperation across municipal borders, a model replicable nationwide.
  • WiredWest has developed and vetted a detailed financial model, drafted an operating agreement, and obtained $49 deposits from more than 7,100 residents who have pledged to subscribe to Internet access services.
  • WiredWest’s plan is designed to achieve economies of scale by... Read more

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