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Leverett Releases RFP For ISP: Responses Due August 15th

Leverett, Massachusetts, has operated its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network since August 2015, working with Crocker Communications to bring Gigabit per second (Gbps) connectivity to residents and businesses in the Massachusetts town. The contract with Crocker is not indefinite, however, and the city has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer services on the network. Responses are due August 15, 2016.

According to the RFP, the ISP selected will have an exclusive agreement to provide services to the community as leverettnet.net. The community seeks a three-year contract and will begin on or before July 1, 2017. 

Leverett’s contract with Crocker Communications was also a three-year term, commencing in 2014. Releasing an RFP now will give community leaders eleven months to review submissions from potential providers and negotiate terms. With their own infrastructure, Leverett has the ability to take a discerning approach and explore other options from the RFP release.

RFP SCHEDULE: 

Written Questions Due: July 18, 2016 at 10 a.m. 

Answers to Questions Posted: July 25, 2016

Submission of Proposals Due: August 15, 2016 at 10 a.m.

Finalist Named: August 26th, 2016

Contract Award: September 2nd, 2016

Islesboro and Rockport: So Near and Yet So Far (On FTTH Vote)

Rockport was the first community in Maine to build a fiber-optic network to serve businesses, but their pioneering initiative will not extend to Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). At their annual town meeting on June 15th, the local Opera House was packed as citizens showed up to speak on funding an FTTH engineering and network design study. After an extended debate, attendees voted on the measure and defeated the town warrant to spend $300,000 on the project.

According to the Penobscot Bay Pilot, passions flared as a number of people stood up to explain their vote. Several people in support of the project had previous experience with life after fiber:

Deborah Hall, on the other hand, said she led an effort in another state to take fiber optics to 500 homes. That effort resulted in the fact that the “average resident is now saving 100 dollars every month in getting rid of Comcast.”

She recounted how the fiber optic system already in place in Rockport was a draw for her family to return to live in the town. They improved their Internet on Russell Avenue by personally spending the money to extend the fiber to their home, and consequently “reduced our collective Internet and television bills by $155 a month. That’s over 50 percent.”

Rockport’s youth described their dilemma, living in a place where connectivity was less than adequate:

Thomas R. Murphy said he also grew up in town but said: “I am leaving this town to seek a technology career, and am moving to Austin. I have to do this because we do not have technology in this town.”

He warned that sticking with the status quo, residents were paying a company “to make profits and take profits to shareholders in other places.”

“We can keep our resources here and improve lives of everyone. This is an investment we need to make for our future. Costs can be spread thoughtfully by the town, and we can pay forward to the future of the town.”

People at the meeting who did not support the project did not like the idea of paying an estimated $150 more per year in property taxes, even though it would significantly lower monthly Internet access rates while offering better service. The measure failed 59 - 92.

Meanwhile in Islesboro…Islanders Sing A Different Song

Across the water of the West Penobscot Bay is an island community of fewer than 600 people. Once Islesboro began taking steps to improve connectivity with publicly owned Internet infrastructure in March 2015, they did not look back.

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On June 18th, voters at the annual town meeting authorized $3.8 million in borrowing with a final vote of 143 - 23. The community will issue a municipal bond paid for with a slight increase in property taxes.

The GWI Blog reports that Islesboro’s plan will provide Gigabit per second (Gbps) Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) access to each business and residence on the island. The network should be completed by spring 2017 and all customers should be connected by the end of the summer. Gigabit connectivity will cost approximately $360 per year. GWI will provide Internet access via the city-owned fiber.

According to Town Manager Janet Anderson, the outcome of the vote relied on educating residents: “It came down to showing the voters how a municipally owned Internet system could be a benefit as well as a simple, good deal for them,” she said.

When folks in Leverett, Massachusetts, considered the financial implications of a fast, affordable, reliable municipal network, they also realized that owning their own infrastructure would give them the best deal. In addition to paying less overall, customers of LeverettNet are getting better Internet access than they can obtain from the incumbents. They keep dollars in the community and they make decisions about the services they will receive.

Page Clason, a member of Islesboro’s Broadband Committee who was instrumental in bringing the initiative this far said:

“We are building a digital bridge to the mainland. By making gigabit Internet available to everyone at an affordable price, we will step to the right side of the digital divide. By building and owning our own network, we control our own destiny. Self-reliance has always been a strong island value.”

Shoot-Out Over the WiredWest: MBI Pulls Funding in Massachusetts Saga

Officials from WiredWest Communications Cooperative in western Massachusetts spent years working with small towns creating a collaborative plan to develop a regional fiber network. The deadline for participation was, January 9th, a little more than a month away, and even though the trail had been thorny, the path now seemed clear. Suddenly, the state revoked critical funding, sending the carefully planned and negotiated project into shambles.

WiredWest Coop Born, Reborn, Ready to Ride

More than five years ago, a group of small towns in Western Massachusetts formed a communications cooperative that evolved into the WiredWest Communications Cooperative Corporation. Their goal was similar to that of any cooperative organization: use the collective resources of the member towns to construct a much needed utility - a fiber-to-the-home network (FTTH) - that could address a persistent problem for a group rural communities - the lack of quality Internet access.

The number of participating towns in the coop has fluctuated over the years; 44 towns are currently official members. Its business plan and operating agreement have also changed as member towns come to consensus on what presents the best path for their local needs.

As the coop refined its model, the business plan, and the operating agreement, WiredWest volunteers worked to secure early subscriber commitments from residents and businesses. Each community obtained a certain threshold of commitment in order to join the coop. To date, WiredWest communities have obtained approximately 7,000 early subscribers.

Each town must establish a Municipal Light Plant (MLP), a process consistent with Massachusetts State Law. The MLP is the entity that is responsible for owning and operating a municipal fiber network. WiredWest describes itself as a cooperative of MLPs with delegates from all 44 member towns as decision makers. The coop's business model also requires a series of votes to ensure local accountability before a town can be considered a member of WiredWest:

  • 40% of townsfolk have to pledge to take the service and each submit a $49 deposit
  • Each town needs to pass a vote by 2/3rds majority to join the coop and commit to funding the venture
  • After that, each town is responsible for choosing its own best course of funding (whether municipal bonding or not). 

The WiredWest operating agreement requires each member community to commit for a period of 10 years. If member towns decide to then withdraw from the coop, the other member towns will buy them out. According to the agreement, WiredWest will use revenue from the network for operating expenses and, once earnings are at a break-even point, excess revenue will be used to pay the member towns' debt service. The network as a whole will belong to all member towns of the cooperative.

With the roster at 44 and each community seemingly satisfied with the cooperative model, business plan, and operating agreement, cooperative member towns chose January 9th as the deadline to approve the operating agreement.

A Look Back

MBI's 1,200-mile open access network, MassBroadband 123 was completed in 2014. The middle-mile network was funded with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding and state funding. The hope was that private providers would then build out the last-mile to subscribers which would connect to MassBroadband 123. When that plan did not come to fruition, the state agreed to supply more funding to jump start local projects in order to get residents and businesses connected.

The local communities needed the funding, but taking the money put them in the position of meeting the needs of a powerful partner - the partner that controlled the much needed funds on which the entire project depended.

In June 2014, the state legislature provided addition funding for rural connectivity in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), the state entity that owns and operates the middle mile MassBroadband123 fiber network, was chosen as steward of $40 million, a large percentage of that funding.

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For the past several years MBI has met with WiredWest board members, provided funds for a planning grant, and helped the group develop plans to connect the WiredWest network to MassBroadband123. In April 2015, MBI conditionally promised up to 40% of the funding for the WiredWest project; the funding would cover approximately one-third of the estimated $120 million to deploy the network. Word of the state grants helped build momentum and towns that wavered in the past decided to join the cooperative.

Throughout the talks with MBI, WiredWest representatives continued to meet with local communities to discuss the possibility of joining the coop. For towns that were committed to joining the effort, WiredWest offered advice on how to proceed. Most of the communities needed to form an MLP and all of the towns needed to take the proper steps to fund their share of the network costs. 

The 44 member towns of WiredWest intended to split 2/3 of the project’s costs, and the remaining $40 million would have been covered by state and federal grants distributed through MBI. In keeping with state law, when a municipality needs to bond to fund a project, the decision must be taken up at a series of town meetings. The process requires community involvement and takes places over the course of months in Massachusetts. Over 20 towns had already committed to municipal bonding for the funding by the end of 2015.

State Funding: Here One Day, Gone The Next

The plan appeared to be on track. A consulting firm hired by WiredWest to review the business plan reported that it was sound and financially feasible. As local officials prepared to commit to the operating agreement, MBI contacted each of the 44 communities urging them not to sign on. MBI released a statement saying WiredWest would require “fundamental revision in order to succeed as a reliable framework.”

As part of their announcement, MBI stated that it would not release the $40 million in state funds for the project.

MBI also released a more thorough report, written with the help of a consultant, detailing their concerns with the plan. MBI determined the WiredWest plan to be “overly optimistic and perhaps unachievable” in its projections for the network’s expected subscriber base and revenues versus costs. MBI stated that is was concerned with the accuracy of projected take rates due to the percentage of seasonal properties in the region.

map-wired-west-2016.pngMBI also took issue with the cooperative structure of WiredWest and the fact that individual towns would not exclusively own the infrastructure in their own communities. MBI Director Eric Nakajima told the Daily Hampshire Gazette:

Nakajima said that WiredWest’s operating agreement contradicts a “Last Mile Broadband Policy” approved by MBI’s board in July [2015]. This policy states: “Last Mile local and regional broadband networks, having been constructed entirely through investments by the (state) and local residents, either as property-taxpayers, renters, or broadband subscribers, will be owned by their respective municipalities.”

Local public ownership is certainly the ideal when it comes to FTTH networks but where a town is small, investing in its own network can be impractical. Pooling resources in a regional effort like WiredWest may be the only option for rural communities like those clustered in western Massachusetts.

Ultimately, Nakajima wrote “the current draft of WiredWest’s operating agreement is not compatible with the best interests of the Commonwealth, the towns, or their residents.” 

WiredWest immediately scheduled a meeting about the withdrawl of promised funds. A coop chairman commented on the issue of ownership, throwing in a stab at the age-old conflict of state vs. local control:

“The ownership issue has been an ongoing issue, but WiredWest is nothing but the towns,” said Steve Nelson, chairman of WiredWest’s legal committee. “The question is, do the towns own individual little pieces, or can the towns pool their money into a larger, more sustainable network? The towns are putting up almost two-thirds of the money. We shouldn’t be dictated to by a bunch of Boston bureaucrats.”

WiredWest Responds

In response to MBI, about 75 WiredWest officials and town delegates crafted a rebuttal to MBI’s critique and wrote a response to MBI’s more specific breakdown of the business plan. They corrected what they felt were several mischaracterizations of their business plan.

For one, WiredWest’s consultant previously told them their projected overall costs for the network were “conservatively estimated.” In addition, WiredWest rejected MBI’s assertion that the projected take rate for the network is unrealistic. Instead, WiredWest said they expected their take rate to be in the 75 to 85% range, similar to the take rate that the nearby Town of Leverett has reached for its municipal network. While such a rate may seem high for a municipal network that faces competition from an incumbent, where there is no competition it is not so surprising, as in Leverett. WiredWest’s projections suggest this take rate to far exceed the 47% take rate they say is necessary for the network to at least break even.

In the rebuttal, WiredWest also took exception with MBI’s suggestion the 44 member towns will transfer ownership of the network to WiredWest and effectively lose out on the network’s potential profits while still being responsible for the debt obligation for the network. From WiredWest:

“It is misleading to imply that WiredWest...is an entity separate from the towns that would operate the network on their behalf. It is a cooperative of the towns, by the towns and for the towns. WiredWest is nothing but the towns.”

WiredWest further found fault with MBI’s claim that the coop model violated the state policies and regulations making it ineligible for funding. Coop Board Members especially criticized the claim that the coop structure did made the entity ineligible for funding due to MBI's Last Mile Broadband Policy passed around the same time WiredWest was changing its structure. WiredWest representatives felt that they had been excluded from any input into the new policy and that the implementation of such policy directly undermined local control and the will of the towns.

"Git Along, Little Doggie…"

As MBI and the WiredWest communities meet to decide how to proceed, the state agency encounters skepticism, frustration, and local ire.

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On December 16th, an MBI scheduled meeting in Greenfield to present the consultant report was filled to capacity. People in the lobby bearing "We Want Wired West" signs had to be turned away so stood outside in angry protest.

At the meeting, MBI's consultant presented a series of slides suggesting that the WiredWest financials omitted a number of necessary expenditures. Jim Drawe, a Cummington resident who developed the cooperative's financial model, took issue with the consultant's analysis and pointed out that the consultants, "don't know us and don't know our region."

Kimberly Longey, an alternate WiredWest delegate from Plainfield, recently wrote to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, describing the need for flexibility from MBI. In small communities like Plainfield, she writes, MBI's solution of a city financed and owned municipal network is not a realistic option. There are only 648 residents and the town operating budget is only $1 million. Plainfield has voted repeatedly to join WiredWest because they do not have the means, financially or otherwise, to build or manage their own network. She writes:

We have more than 25 square miles of township and more than 50 miles of road, most of it dirt...[WiredWest] is a cooperative of some of the smallest, poorest and hardest to wire towns joining with wealthier communities to band together to build a regional network able to serve them all....Towns have the right and responsibility to choose their broadband solution.

My town has chosen WiredWest.

Meetings between MBI and WiredWest are scheduled as the two entities try to move forward to bring better connectivity to the people of western Massachusetts.

WiredWest map and Fibertown image courtesy of WiredWest.

This article written with considerable contributions from Hannah Trostle and Tom Ernste.

LeverettNet Meets Demand for Better Connectivity in MA

On October 2nd, a group of residents, business owners, and educators met with elected officials to celebrate the early success of LeverettNet. The municipal gigabit fiber network now serves 650 of 800 households in the Massachusetts town of 1,800.

This spring, the network began serving limited areas of town, offering telephone service and gigabit Internet access. LeverettNet's instant success is no surprise, considering a number townsfolk depended on unreliable, slow dial-up service over antiquated copper infrastructure for years. Some in town used DSL, satellite, and wireless devices; others had no Internet access at all. Telephone service was equally dismal - sometimes the community would lose service when it rained.

Leverett connects to MassBroadband 123, the statewide middle-mile network deployed by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute. Greenfield, Massachusetts Internet service provider Crocker Communications, is partnering with Leverett to offer gigabit service via the publicly owned infrastructure. 

The community chose to fund the network with a modest property tax increase and from revenue collected from subscribers. After they did the math, Leverett realized they could obtain better, faster, more reliable services for less if they built their own network. Take a few minutes to listen to Chris interview Peter d'Errico from Leverett's Broadband Committee and Select Board, in episode #113 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

At the celebration, d'Errico described the way the community came together:

“The project has been huge for the town and mostly undertaken by our volunteer broadband committee, which met weekly for four years to make it happen,” said Peter d’Errico of the Leverett Broadband Committee. “With each phase taken a step at a time we have managed to complete something we all thought was a dream when it was first conceived. Now that it’s complete, residents are thrilled to see what they can do at home on the Internet.” 

Leverett residents are already using their new network to work from home, explore educational opportunities for their kids, and discover ways to make the gig work for them. At the October event, a number of elected officials in attendence recognized that fiber networks give small towns an edge that can draw in more businesses and more people:

State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, observed that 13 of the 19 towns he represents in the Legislature are either unserved or underserved.

“You’re the first. You’re blazing a new trail here,” Kulik said.

But he cautioned that it might give people impulse to buy property in Leverett if their own towns don’t make the investment.

“If they don’t do what you do, they’re all going to move to Leverett,” Kulik said.

Holyoke Success Spurs Interest in Mass Muni Networks - Community Broadband Bits Episode 162

A few weeks back, we noted an excellent new report on Holyoke Municipal Light Plant in Massachusetts published by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. This week, we discuss the report and lessons learned from it with David Talbot, Fellow at the Berkman Center.

David gives us some of the key takeaways from the report and we discuss what other municipal light plants are doing, including how Holyoke Gas & Electric is using the state owned middle mile network to partner with other municipalities like Greenfield and Leverett.

Finally, David offers some insight into how the municipal light plants that have not yet engaged in expanding Internet access think about the challenges of doing so. You can listen to (or read the transcript of) episode 65, where we interviewed Tim Haas of Holyoke Gas & Electric.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

Holyoke Case Study from Berkman Center Explores Massachusetts Muni Fiber

A few weeks ago, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society released a report that documents the achievements of Holyoke Gas & Electric (HG&E) Telecom, a municipal electric utility that now provides fiber-optic broadband Internet to local businesses in several western Massachusetts towns. The utility’s move into fiber-optics has led to municipal savings for the City of Holyoke, as well as increased high-speed access in neighboring cities, and driven economic development. We interviewed Holyoke's Senior Network Engineer, Tim Haas, in a previous episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Because the state of Massachusetts has no barriers that prevent the creation of municipal Internet networks, HG&E has been able to compete on a level playing field with incumbent ISPs Comcast and Charter. HG&E is among 12 MLPs (Municipal Light Plants) out of 41 in the state to offer fiber Internet services. Researchers at the Berkman Center believe that MLPs could play a large role in expanding Internet access and business opportunities throughout the state as electricity revenues experience diminishing returns and data needs grow. For example, HG&E’s fiber connection was a factor in the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center’s decision to open a $90 million data center in Holyoke. 

HG&E is a somewhat unique municipal network in that it offers services not only in Holyoke, but also in nearby Chicopee. It also assists Leverett and Greenfield with their own networks. In Chicopee, the utility provided fiber access in a collaboration with 35 local businesses. In Leverett, it is managing the municipal network, with services provided by a local private company. As for Greenfield, HG&E now serves as the ISP for City Hall and the city’s police station, both of which will function as Internet access nodes as the town looks to create a fiber and wireless network that extends into homes and businesses. 

Unlike in North Carolina and Tennessee, where public interest groups had to petition the FCC to strike down a law preventing cities from extending fiber into neighboring municipalities, in Massachusetts cross-municipal collaboration can happen at the drop of a hat. The authors of the report write: 

These deals provide modest revenue streams and also illustrate how a MLP telecom division can extend its offerings far beyond the usual geographic boundaries of electricity service.

Though HG&E currently only offers municipal fiber optic services to business and community anchor institutions, the next step for other MLPs is the provisioning of fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) services. The report highlights Westfield’s plans to use its public utility to roll out an FTTH offering: 

The offering will include optional phone service, but no TV bundle. WGE [Westfield Gas and Electric Department] had rejected the idea of residential service several times over the past 10 years because it would have meant providing TV content. Now, however, on-demand video services are becoming popular. 

The Berkman Center report, which runs 21 pages, illustrates both the shifting demands for broadband access, as well as a collaborative method for addressing these needs. The hope is that reports of this nature can contribute to an ever-increasing wealth of knowledge with regards to the variety of municipal approaches in play for expanding high-speed, reliable Internet access.

Leverett Starts to Light Up in Massachusetts

The celebrated municipal network in Leverett, Massachusetts, is starting to serve select areas of the community. Customers' properties on the north side of town are now receiving 1 gigabit Internet service from the town's partner Crocker Communications. These early subscribers are considered "beta sites." Telephone service will become available when the network has been fully tested.

According to the press release:

The Town's initial plan was to turn on all subscriber locations at the same time; but interest from pre-subscribers was so strong that the Town's Broadband Committee arranged to offer sequential connections as individual homes are spliced into the network distribution cable. 

We learned about Leverett in 2012 as they explored the possibility of a municipal network. Lack of Internet access and problems with traditional phone service drove the community to take the initiative. Since then, they have been heralded as a model for self-reliance by the press, featured in case studies, and included in a white paper from the National Economic Council and Council of Economic Advisors.

LeverettNet subscribers pay a monthly $49.95 fee to the local Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the agency that maintains and operates the infrastructure. As more subscribers sign-up, that fee will decrease.

For stand-alone gigabit Internet access, subscribers pay an additional $24.95 per month. Stand-alone telephone service will be $29.95 per month. Those services will be $44.95 per month when bundled together.

A subscriber with bundled services of 1 gigabit symmetrical Internet access and telephone service pays a total of $94.90 per month, which includes the MLP fee. 

According to the press release, LeverettNet currently has 600 pre-subscribers, a take rate of 70%. Community leaders expect the network to be completed by August.

For more on Leverett, listen to the Community Broadband Bits podcast episode #113, in which Chris interviewed Peter d'Errico from Leverett's Select Board and the Broadband Committee.

Municipal Networks and Small ISP Partners to FCC: Title II Not a Problem

A group of municipal leaders and their private sector small ISP partners submitted an ex parte filing with the FCC today stating that they see no reason to fear Title II reclassification of Internet access. The statement, signed by a variety of towns and providers from different areas of the country is reproduced in full:

Dear Chairman Wheeler,

As a group of local governments and small ISPs that have been working to expand the highest quality Internet access to our communities, we commend you for your efforts to improve Internet access across the country. We are committed to a free and open Internet without blocking, throttling, or discriminating by ISPs.

As local governments and small ISPs, we wanted to ensure you are aware that not all local governments and ISPs think alike on matters like reclassification. For instance, on July 18, 2014, the mayors of New York City; Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco called on you to issue the strongest possible rules to guarantee Net Neutrality. Each of these communities is also taking steps to expand and improve high quality Internet access to their businesses and residents.

Our approaches vary but are already resulting in the highest level of service available because we are committed to expanding high quality Internet access to supercharge local economies and improve quality of life. We have no interest in simply replicating older triple play model approaches. We want to build the infrastructure of the future and we see nothing in the proposed Title II reclassification of Internet access that would hinder our ability to do that. As Sonic CEO Dane Jasper has strongly argued, ISPs that don’t want to interfere with their subscribers’ traffic should expect a light regulatory touch.

We thank you for your leadership during this difficult period of transition. We understand that many of our colleagues have trouble trusting the FCC given a history that has, in many cases, ignored the challenges small entities face in this industry. But whether it has been increasing the speed definition of broadband, or calling for the removal of barriers to community networks, we have been impressed with your willingness to take on powerful interest groups to ensure the Internet remains a vibrant, open platform.

We look forward to working with you to ensure that future rules recognize the unique challenges of small providers and innovative approaches to expanding access.

Sincerely,

  • Peter d'Errico, Town of Leverett MA, Municipal Light Plant, Town of Leverett MA Select Board
  • Fletcher Kittredge, President and CEO, GWI, Maine
  • Rick Bates, Town Manager, Town of Rockport, Maine
  • Kevin Utz, Mayor, Westminster, Maryland
  • Dr Robert Wack, Council Member, Westminster, Maryland 
  • R. Brough Turner, Founder and CTO, netBlazr Inc., Boston, MA
  • Pete Ashdown, Founder and CEO of XMission, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Elliot Noss, CEO, Tucows / Ting
  • Kim Kleppe, Information Systems Director, City of Mount Vernon, Washington
  • Dana Kirkham, Mayor, City of Ammon, ID
  • Levi C. Maaia, President, Full Channel Labs, Warren, Rhode Island

You can also view the PDF of the filing at the FCC website.

For more on Title II and how it may or may not affect municipal networks and their private partners, listen to Chris interview Chris Lewis from Public Knowledge in Episode #138 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Community-Based Broadband Solutions: The Benefits of Competition and Choice for Community Development and Highspeed Internet Access

Publication Date: 
January 13, 2015
Author(s): 
National Economic Council and Council of Economic Advisors

Affordable, reliable access to high speed broadband is critical to U.S. economic growth and competitiveness. Upgrading to higher-speed broadband lets consumers use the Internet in new ways, increases the productivity of American individuals and businesses, and drives innovation throughout the digital ecosystem. As this report describes, while the private sector has made investments to dramatically expand broadband access in the U.S., challenges still remain. Many markets remain unserved or underserved. Others do not benefit from the kind of competition that drives down costs and improves quality. To help fill the void, hundreds of towns and cities around the country have developed their own locally-owned networks. This report describes the benefits of higher-speed broadband access, the current challenges facing the market, and the benefits of competition – including competition from community broadband networks. - Executive Summary

On January 13, 2015, President Barack Obama visited Cedar Falls, Iowa, to discuss his administration's plans to bring better connectivity to American residents and businesses. The centerpiece of his strategy involved removing state barriers to municipal networks and promoting local authority.

In tandem with that speech, the White House released this report. The report includes significant research from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, including community profiles, economic data, and the role if municipal networks in competition.

Small Town Volunteers in Massachusetts Begin Pole Inventory

Volunteers in Shutesbury will fan out this weekend to perform a "pole inventory blitz" reports the GazetteNet.com. The town of approximately 1,800 people sits near Leverett and faces many of the same difficulties with connectivity. 

Shutesbury and Leverett were working together a few years ago hoping to develop a solution to bring infrastructure to both communities. The two communities approached Verizon and Comcast asking for better connectivity, but their requests led to nothing. Eventually, Leverett became frustrated and broke out on their own. They are now deploying their own fiber network.

One of the first steps in determining the feasibility and costs to deploy a fiber network is accurately evaluating assets. Many local communities do not have an up-to-date inventory of utility poles or what entities own those poles. In Lake County, Minnesota, Frontier Communications asserted ownership of utility poles in the town of Two Harbors after fiber had been strung on those poles. Unfortunately, the county's records had not been revisited in some time and Frontier was able to produce records put ownership in question. The project was significantly delayed; planners eventually moved more fiber underground to avoid many of those poles. Pole inventories and due diligence, as in Shutesbury, help avoid delays and unanticipated cost increases. (Read all about Lake County's project in our recent report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models For Exanding Fiber Internet Access)

Most Shutesbury residents use Verizon DSL, satellite, or dial-up and the community knows it needs better access. In an effort to obtain connectivity that will ensure fast, affordable, reliable services in the future, Shutesbury is taking inspiration from its neighbor. The city does not have any specific plans for a municipal network but is realistic about lack of interest from private investment.

The committee originally formed to work on the issue with Leverett began meeting again last April and has organized volunteers to get the process started. On November 8th, 60 volunteers will go out in teams of 3 in order to accurately collect information on utility poles in the 27.2 square-mile town. They will use a special iPad app developed by one of the Shutesbury Broadband Committee Co-Chairwomen, Gayle Huntress.

Asha Strazzero-Wild, another co-chairwoman of the Broadband Committee told the GazetteNet that the community is painfully aware of the lack of connectivity in Shutesbury:

“Everyone who’s involved in this is saying we need broadband and we need it yesterday.”