Tag: "wired west"

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...

Read more
Posted March 26, 2011 by christopher

Something for other communities to learn from!

Posted March 18, 2011 by christopher

The Roanoke Times recently published an extensive story about broadband, covering everything from what it is to why it is needed and who doesn't have it.

Aside from providing an excellent primer on these issues to those who are new to broadband discussions, Jeff Sturgeon writes about problems often ignored by the media, like the difficulties for companies and other entities can encounter when they need extremely high capacity connections:

Skip Garner directs the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, which unites the powers of biology and information technology to advance medicine. It is at Virginia Tech. Garner said he, too, finds computing power a constraint. In spite of a 1 gigabit connection, "we are limited in what we could do," Garner said.

When the lab's DNA sequencers pile up data, "we will often put it on a 1-terabyte drive ... and FedEx it to our customers," Garner said.

An upgrade to 10 gigabits is coming. He expects it still won't be enough.

It might appear that new facilities would not have such problems, but even the 5-month-old Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute near downtown Roanoke is not satisfied with its Web service. While the speed is good at 10 gigabits, the cost it pays to service providers is staggering.

"It's in the tens of thousands of dollars a month," said Executive Director Michael Friedlander.

This is one world. Communities with their own fiber networks are another -- where these connections are not prohibitively expensive. And yet another world is the world of several rural Minnesota Counties, who cannot even get T.1 lines from incumbent phone providers. In Cook County, in 2008, a company was quoted $600,000 to install a T.1 line. Yes, $600,000 - I had to hear it twice to make sure I wasn't imagining it.

The article explores Design Nine founder Andrew Cohill's thoughts on improving broadband access. Cohill mentions Wired West, a network we have written about previously.

"We think it's got to be treated like essential public infrastructure," he said.

That way, access would be open to any service provider on equal footing. Just as anyone could launch a cab company or food delivery service over the road system, anyone...

Read more
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...

Read more
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...

Read more
Posted July 2, 2010 by christopher

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
Posted June 10, 2010 by christopher

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):

Article [X]:
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
Posted March 30, 2010 by christopher

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.

Pages

Subscribe to wired west