Tag: "massachusetts"

Posted June 1, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

After years of discussing the possibility of building a city-wide municipal broadband network in the face of resistance from the city manager, the city of Cambridge, Boston’s next-door neighbor, is now getting serious about moving forward.

Followed by a budget stand-off in the spring of 2020 with City Councilors that brought the issue to a head, City Manager Louis DePasquale finally relented to the possibility being pushed by Upgrade Cambridge, a citizen-led group organized in 2018 to advocate for municipal broadband.

In October, the city that is home to MIT and Harvard University hired the consulting firm CTC Technology & Energy to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the digital landscape and present various business models Cambridge could pursue to bring its residents ubiquitous, reliable, and affordable high-speed Internet service as an alternative to the monopoly offerings of Comcast and Verizon DSL.

While Upgrade Cambridge founding member Roy Russell acknowledged DePasquale’s initial reluctance, he credits the soon-to-be-retiring city manager for coming around to the idea.

“With the pandemic and the money the federal government has supplied (for expanding access to broadband), he (DePasquale) has really stepped up,” Russell said when we spoke with him last week.

Comprehensive Assessment Underway

As it stands now, CTC is on track to complete its assessment by the fall of 2022. In early May, representatives of the consulting firm gave Upgrade Cambridge an update on where they are in the process. CTC reported a range of activities they are working on:

• Conducting site surveys and putting together a design and cost estimate

• Exploring business models

• Market analysis that includes a residential survey

• Planning engagement with business community

• Coordinating with Cambridge...

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Posted May 27, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

As communities across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are at various planning stages in laying the groundwork to build their own municipal broadband networks, a rural Bay State town about 50 miles west of Boston has moved past the planning phase and is now offering municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) service.

In Sterling (est. pop. 8,000) – the town that lays claim to Mary Sawyer Tyler, said to have inspired the “Mary Had a Little Lamb” poem – the town’s municipal utility is building out its aptly named Local Area Municipal Broadband (LAMB) network.

The project was initiated more than five years ago as a new division within the century-old Sterling Municipal Light Department (SMLD). As one of about 40 of the state’s 351 towns and cities with its own municipal electric utility, SMLD was awarded a $150,000 state grant to help finance the construction of a 23-mile regional I-Net ring in 2020. A year later, LAMB lit up its first residential customer in April of 2021.

Following an incremental approach, earlier this year, the LAMB added its 50th subscriber as construction crews are on track to build out a town-wide fiber network by the end of 2024.

Connecting with Nearby Towns

Like other communities across the nation with an established municipal utility, from a design and engineering standpoint, it was a relatively easy leap into broadband for SMLD, which currently supplies electricity to more than 3,700 residential, commercial and municipal customers.

Hanging fiber along SMLD’s utility poles to first build the network backbone, it allowed the town to connect 26 municipal buildings, which included the police and fire stations, library, town hall, the department of public works, water and radio towers, as well as SMLD’s substations.

It was a...

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Posted April 26, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

It’s official. Falmouth, Massachusetts has established a legal framework, a telecommunications utility, that is a key milestone in a local effort to bring fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) Internet service to this seaside community of approximately 32,000 famous for being home to a world-class marine science community as well as a popular summer vacation destination.

In the fall, Town Meeting voters voted 175-13 for the creation of the utility called a Municipal Light Plant (MLP). The law, however, requires two separate ‘yes’ votes with a 2/3 majority within a 13-month period. That second vote came earlier this month, when Town Meeting voters said “yes” to establishing an MLP by a vote of 159 to 25, well in excess of the 2/3 majority that was needed.

It allows Falmouth to move to the next step – figuring out the financing – which would allow Falmouth to join the growing ranks of communities in the Bay State (and be the first of 15 Cape Cod towns) to have undertaken municipal broadband projects over the last several years.

Voters Reject Opposition Arguments

Though a small group of municipal broadband critics strenuously argued in opposition to the formation of an MLP by raising a number of thoroughly debunked claims about locally-owned networks, ultimately Town Meeting voters were more persuaded by the experiences of resident’s such as Marilois Snowman who owns a digital marketing agency in town.

While the state does not require communities to establish an MLP in order to build a broadband network, establishing one enables municipalities to formally create a telecommunications utility, which offers several advantages for building a locally based network such as the ability to form alliances and more easily contract for services.

Snowman...

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Posted December 2, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Cities and towns all over Massachusetts are looking for alternatives to the big incumbent Internet Service Providers in their communities as citizens across the Commonwealth have grown weary of the high-cost, second-rate Internet service – and lack of competition – that plagues markets dominated by monopoly providers.

Gov. Charlie Baker and state lawmakers have yet to settle on how much of the Commonwealth’s American Rescue Plan funds should be devoted to expanding access to affordable and reliable high-speed Internet service in the Bay State. Meanwhile, a growing number of local leaders and community advocates are positioning themselves for the possibility of creating municipal telecommunications utilities to build publicly-owned broadband infrastructure.

Falmouth Leads the Way on Cape Cod

On Cape Cod in the Town of Falmouth (pop. 32,517), the citizen-led non-profit FalmouthNet is making major strides in bringing town-wide fiber-to-the-home Internet service to the second-largest municipality on the southeastern Massachusetts peninsula. (Full disclosure: both Sean Gonsalves and Christopher Mitchell serve as FalmouthNet Advisory Board members).

Having completed a feasibility study last year that laid out a detailed market analysis and financial forecast for building the estimated $55 million town-wide fiber network, FalmouthNet recently announced it has signed a contract with Tilson, a telecom construction and engineering firm based in Portland, Maine, to design the network.

In addition to contracting with Tilson, FalmouthNet is also celebrating a recent Town Meeting vote in which the overwhelming majority of Town Meeting representatives voted in favor of establishing a Municipal Light Plant (MLP) in Falmouth with 175 Town Meeting representatives voting in favor and 13 in opposition.

Forming an MLP enables...

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Posted November 3, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Broadband was on the ballot as voters went to the polls for Election Day in many areas. Here’s a quick run-down of what happened.

Colorado

The Colorado state law (SB-152) that bans local governments in the Centennial State from establishing municipal broadband service suffered another defeat at the ballot box. Since the law was passed nearly two decades ago, more than 150 Colorado communities have opted out. That number continues to grow and we can now add the town of Windsor to the list of municipalities in the state who have voted to restore local Internet choice.

At the polls yesterday, 77 percent of Windsor voters said yes to Ballot Question 3A, which asked “shall the Town of Windsor, without increasing taxes by this measure, be authorized to provide high-speed Internet services (advanced services), telecommunications services, and/or cable television services … either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners?”

The passage of the ballot question allows Windsor to opt out of SB-152, although as reported by The Colorodoan, town leaders do not intend to establish a new municipal broadband utility as Loveland, Fort Collins, and Estes Park have done in the Front Range region of the state. Rather, Windsor will “pursue a public-private partnership with Highline Internet to bring high-speed Internet and phone service to the town … Highline would build, own and operate the network, though Windsor has the option of contributing money or assets (with voter approval) in exchange for a share of revenue.” Highline Internet is a company operating in multiple states that we have not often come across before.

In Milliken, just 16 miles...

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Posted August 17, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Springfield prides itself as a “City of Firsts.” Located in central Massachusetts, 90 miles west of Boston, Springfield is where the nation’s first armory was located and where the first U.S.-made automobile was built. It’s also the birthplace of basketball and Theodor Geisel, better known by his pen name “Dr. Seuss.”

Last month, the city took its first step to explore whether it will become the first of New England’s five biggest cities to build a municipal fiber-to-the-home network.

Channeling Dr. Seuss, who famously wrote “only you can control your future,” city officials are in the process of issuing a Request for Proposals to conduct a feasibility study to explore if Springfield (est. pop. 154,000) will control its digital future by meeting “the growing demand for reliable and affordable Internet service.”

According to a press release issued by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s office, “the study would review such items including but not limited to the current Internet equipment and infrastructure in place across the city, gauge public interest, provide a cost analysis on infrastructure investment, review and assess maintenance cost, possible revenue sources, and exploring potential public/private partnerships and collaborations for the benefit of consumers.”

Pandemic Exposed Digital Chasm

The city is currently served by Comcast Xfinity and Verizon DSL. But, according to City Councilor Jesse Lederman, a leading advocate for better broadband in Springfield, the pandemic exposed a growing digital divide in the city while surrounding communities are increasingly being served by fiber networks.

“The COVID-19 pandemic made a few things very clear,” Lederman told WAMC public radio. “The Internet has become an essential utility for residents and businesses. During COVID...

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Posted August 9, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Between the U.S. Treasury clarifying that American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds are eligible to be spent on middle-mile infrastructure and the U.S. Senate’s proposed infrastructure bill directing NTIA to establish a $1 billion grant program to support the deployment of middle-mile networks, federal assistance aiming to improve middle-mile access is imminent. 

Cities and states across the U.S. have already committed portions of their federal relief funds to boost access to middle-mile infrastructure. City officials of Brownsville, Texas approved a plan in July to use $19.5 million of ARP funds to construct a 95-mile-long middle-mile broadband network. In Suffolk, Virginia, city council members set aside $5 million of relief funds for the first phase of a regional project to construct an open access, middle-mile fiber ring. 

The Governor and State Legislature of California recently settled on a $3.25 billion agreement to build statewide public middle-mile infrastructure, “one of the largest state investments in public fiber in the history of the United States,” reports Ernesto Falcon for EFF.

The sudden surge in middle-mile investment may bring about confusion over what middle-mile infrastructure is and give rise to questions over the necessity of such investments. A new fact sheet from the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) clarifies commonly held misbeliefs about investing in public middle-mile infrastructure. Read CSAC’s new fact sheet here [pdf].

Investments in Public Middle-Mile Needed to Confront Monopolies

Upon State Governor Gavin Newsom introducing his plan...

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Posted July 16, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

We have covered on numerous occasions the fiber-to-the-home boom underway in the rural hill towns of western Massachusetts. Now we are seeing a number of communities around the Boston metro area in the eastern part of the Commonwealth, as well as in other of the more populous towns and cities across Massachusetts, exploring the possibility of building their own community broadband networks.

In the rural environs of the Berkshires the demand for municipal fiber networks was primarily driven by a need for high-speed Internet connectivity in small towns with only outdated DSL or satellite-based Internet service as options. In the larger cities and towns in other parts of the state, by contrast, the driving force for better broadband has been a desire to introduce competition into a market dominated by the regional monopoly providers (Comcast, Verizon and Charter-Spectrum) that have left many communities starving for a cheaper, faster, and more reliable option. 

The towns are at different stages. Some are moving through the study and design phase. Some are stalled. Some have decided to work with third-party providers. And one is on the cusp of building a fiber network, beginning with a pilot project. Here is snapshot of nine different communities and where they stand. (It is not an exahustive list of towns in Massachusetts contemplating municipal networks). 

Agawam

Just three miles south of Springfield is Agawam, a town of approximately 28,000, home to the only Six Flags Amusement Park in New England. What Agawam residents do not find amusing, however, was when Comcast announced plans to introduce monthly data caps and associated fees for customers who exceeded those caps. It was enough to convince town officials they should explore building their own municipal broadband network.

The town formed the Agawam Municipal Fiber Task Force and charged the task force with reviewing “the feasibility of the Town constructing and operating its own fiber network, partnering with another municipal fiber network, and/or the potential of a private company...

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Posted May 19, 2021 by Jericho Casper

In his $100 billion “California Comeback Plan”, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing to devote $7 billion to invest in expanding broadband access over the next three years, with $4 billion of that to be used for constructing a statewide middle-mile, open access fiber network.

The $7 billion earmarked for broadband in the budget proposal, referred to as the “May Revision” [pdf], specifically includes:

  • $4 billion for a statewide middle-mile, open access fiber network to connect Census Designated Places (CDP) which lack access to broadband service capable of providing 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) downstream 

  • $500 million for a Loan Loss Reserve Account, a public financing program to assist local governments, Tribes, and nonprofits financing new municipal fiber networks

  • $500 million for one-time payments to broadband providers serving rural areas where it is more costly to build community networks

  • $2 billion for the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to incent existing and new Internet Service Providers to build last-mile infrastructure

Gov. Newsom’s infrastructure plan now heads to the State Legislature, where it must be voted on by June 15.

Newsom’s plan is to allocate this funding over a period of several years, allotting $2 billion of federal Rescue Plan funds in Fiscal Year 2021-22, and $1.5 billion in state General Fund resources combined with $3.5 billion in Rescue Plans funds in Fiscal Year 2022-23. To fund the overall $100 billion budget proposal, if passed, the state would combine a total of $25 billion in federal relief funding with $75.7 billion from the state’s budget surplus.

“Let’s get this done once and for all, so that no future administration is talking about the scourge of the digital divide,” said Gov. Newsom, in a press conference on Friday. “This is what the federal stimulus from my perspective was all about: catalytic investments to make generational change. This is one of those investments.”

Newsom’s Plan Provides Technical Assistance Teams and Loans for Communities

More specifically, the “Comeback Plan” would construct a public backhaul network that connects cities and critical anchor institutions to one another, while leaving local communities, cooperatives,...

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Posted May 4, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

As the oldest son of the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie — the Town of Washington, Massachusetts’ most famous resident — built a name for himself as a singer-songwriter by letting folks know, “You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant.”

But if you ask the town’s Broadband Manager Kent Lew, there was one thing that was not on the menu in Washington before last year: high-speed Internet connectivity.

That’s no longer the case as the small town of Washington (pop. 549) has been on the vanguard of rural communities in the hill towns of the Berkshires that have built out (or are in the process of building out) Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks to bring gigabit speeds and affordable connectivity for residents for decades into the future.

The Pandemic: Curse & Blessing

“On the eve the Governor announced the (pandemic) shut down in March of 2020, our first Fiber Service Area was ready,” Lew recalled in a recent interview with us. “It was tremendous that we were able to do this just as people really needed it.”

As one of dozens of Western Massachusetts towns working in partnership with municipal utility provider Westfield Gas + Electric (which operates Whip City Fiber) to build broadband infrastructure, it was in 2015 that Town Meeting voters authorized a $770,000 bond issuance to finance half the construction costs of the $1.47 million network. The other half came from state grant funding.

The network design work wrapped up in 2018 with construction beginning in earnest the following year. The First Service Area was set to be lit up in March of 2020 and the entire rest of the network, which passes all 280 premises in town, was completed two months later in May of 2020 with construction crews having deployed 26.5 miles of fiber.

Still, the initial months of the pandemic lock-down, Lew said, was a “very frustrating period. Just...

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