Tag: "massachusetts broadband institute"

Posted July 19, 2017 by lgonzalez

Two more western Massachusetts towns are ready to move forward with their municipal networks. Ashfield and Shutesbury both plan on working with Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to their communities.

Funding Release Allows Projects To Move

Earlier this year, state officials at the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) decided to release state funds to local communities so they could finally begin their last-mile projects. Ashfield, population approximately 1,750, received $1.4 million and Shutesbury, population about 1,800, received $870,000; each town’s award should cover about one-third of the cost to deploy their planned municipal FTTH networks.

Shutesbury hopes to connect every premise for an estimate of $2.5 million and expects the project to be complete by 2019. Ashfield also intends to include every property; its Municipal Light Plant (MLP) will operate the infrastructure and partner with a private form for network operations and ISPs for service to the community. WG+E will provide support to Ashfield for design, engineering, and construction. Shutesbury plans to work with WG+E during planning and construction.

Westfield Showing The Way

The two communities join nearby Otis, a town of 1,687 premises, which also hired WG+E to help them deploy their fiber optic network. In June, WG+E trucks started to roll into Otis and begin work on the new project. Towns in western Massachusetts that qualify for the funding have looked to Westfield for guidance ever since the community deployed its WhipCity FTTH network. Westfield has expanded within its own borders and is now embracing its role as a mentor and agent.

Learn more about WG+E’s WhipCity Fiber from Christopher’s conversation with Operations Manager Aaron Bean and Key Accounts & Customer Service Manager Sean Fitzgerald for... Read more

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 29, 2017 by lgonzalez

West Virginia rural communities struggle with access to broadband but a bill in the state legislature is taking some first steps to encourage better connectivity. HB 3093 passed the House with wide support (97 - 2) and has been sent on to the Senate for review. The bill doesn’t appropriate any funding for Internet infrastructure projects around the state, but adopts some policies that may help local communities obtain better connectivity.

Revenue Neutral And Popular

The state is facing a $500 million budget deficit and lawmakers don't have the appetite to appropriate finds for Internet infrastructure projects. As in most states, policy bills do well during times of financial strife. Elected officials still want to do what they can to encourage better broadband so, according to at least one lawmaker, the revenue neutral nature of the bill has contributed to its success in the legislature. Delegate Roger Henshaw, one of the bill's co-sponsors, told Metro News:

“Notice this is a revenue-neutral bill,” Hanshaw said. “That’s in fact one of the reasons we’re rolling it out now. We have other bills here in both the House and Senate that are not revenue-neutral bills that were on the table for consideration.

“But with the clock ticking on us, it became clear that we probably ought to be looking at options to advance service that didn’t even have the possibility of a financial impact. This bill does not.”

Check out the 3-minute interview with Hanshaw on Soundcloud.

The Broadband Enhancement Council

West Virginia’s Broadband Enhancement Council was created in a previous session and receives more authority and responsibility under HB 3093. They are tasked with the authority to, among other things, gather comparative data between actual and advertised speeds around the state, to advise and provide consultation services to project sponsors, and make the public know about facilities that offer community broadband access. 

HB 3093 briefly addresses the creation of the “Broadband Enhancement Fund," and addresses how the funds should be spent. For now, the fund remains dry... 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 February 6, 2017 by Nick

Berkshire Eagle - February 4, 2017

 

Eagle Eye Team Report: Broadband expansion languishes in Berkshires

 

Written by Larry Parnass & Patricia LeBoeuf

Nearly 10 years ago, Gov. Deval Patrick came to Becket with a promise of information-age equity: broadband internet service across Western Massachusetts. By 2011, he said.

And yet the “digital divide” persists.

...

 

OUTSIDE RECOMMENDATIONS

 

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, has studied the issue nationally from his base in Minnesota.

Governments can and should build their own broadband networks, he said.

“Getting high-quality internet is not the first time we’ve done this. We electrified the entire country and did it in a fiscally responsible manner,” he said.

Rather than start with a middle mile, Mitchell thinks Massachusetts should have fostered last-mile connections with alternative ways of connecting to distant trunk lines on the internet. And when it comes to local town networks, he believes people should think of what’s best locally.

...

Read the full story here.

____________________________________

Berkshire Eagle - February 6, 2017

 

Inside the broadband meltdown: WiredWest retools after losing faceoff with MBI

 

Written by Larry Parnass

A broadband vision for the Berkshires crashed and burned one afternoon in December 2015.

A year later, people still poke through the wreckage. They want to understand why the Massachusetts Broadband Institute halted its long-running alliance with WiredWest, a nonprofit, grassroots cooperative that had signed up dozens of towns to build and operate a shared internet network.

...

 

MUTUAL BENEFITS

 

Nakajima, the former MBI executive director, said the initial WiredWest plan did possess an element of “genius.” That lay, he said, in its hope to... Read more

Posted February 2, 2017 by lgonzalez

Mount Washington has selected a firm to handle the design and construction services for its planned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Mount Washington

This past summer, the community received word that it would receive a $230,000 grant from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), the state agency set up to administer federal and state funds for broadband network deployment. Mount Washington had already obtained special permission from the state legislature to proceed with a network sans a Municipal Light Plant (MLP). In Massachusetts, municipalities are required to establish MLPs to operate and manage any publicly owned Internet network. Because Mount Washington is so small, however, they felt creating another administrative entity would be an undue burden; state legislators agreed and created an exception for them in statute.

This past spring, they released a Request for Proposals (RFP) to locate a firm for design and construction.

An Important Step

The town of 150 full-time residents is located in the far southwest corner of the state and much of the community is covered by forest. The Mount Washington State Forest, the Mount Everett State Reservation, and the Taconic Mountains, give the community its nickname: “The Town Among The Clouds.” Incumbents have shied away from investing in Mount Washington; even plain old telephone service is bad there. 

The town considered participating in the Wired West broadband cooperative, but eventually chose to pursue their own network. Mount Washington’s publicly owned network will connect to MassBroadband 123, the statewide middle mile network. The network will also need to find an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to offer Internet access via the new infrastructure.

In the press release, announcing the decision to move on to the next step:

“High-speed internet access has become an essential service in today’s economy, similar to that of electricity,” said Gail Garrett, Selectboard Member, Town of Mount Washington. “We believe our town... 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 November 19, 2016 by lgonzalez

Alford, Massachusetts, located along the western border of Massachusetts, recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for fiber optic network design and contractors; the community wants to deploy a Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network. Deadline for proposals is December 21, 2016.

A Long Journey To Now

Alford is home to approximately 500 residents and has pursued better connectivity since the early 2000s, when it first approached the incumbents. As is often the case, national providers continued to pass by Alford over the years leaving them with old, unreliable technology. During 2012 and 2013, the community took the necessary steps and voted to create a Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the entity that manages publicly owned networks in Massachusetts. Since then, they have formed a broadband committee, conducted surveys of local interest and requirements, and examined financial models. 

In 2015, the town approved a measure to borrow $1.6 million to cover the expenses to deploy a FTTP network. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), the state agency tasked with administering more than $71 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and state funds, informed the MLP Board that the town will receive approximately $290,000 in grants funds.

The Alford MLP’s November update reports that the community has made significant progress on make-ready work to prepare utility poles:

The MLP has now come to an agreement with Verizon and National Grid about the extent of “make-ready” work required to prepare the poles to accept fiber. In the next few weeks the MLP will make payments to the utilities, clearing the way for the work to begin. The MLP has no control over the timing of the work, which will probably begin around year- end and which can take up to six months to complete. 

The Project

Alford wants a network that is scalable and capable of offering high-speed connectivity and telephone service to each premise in the community. They estimate there are 734 utility poles on which to hang fiber-optic cable and that 22 miles of fiber-optic plant will be necessary. There are... Read more

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