Tag: "westfield ma"

Posted January 2, 2019 by lgonzalez

The small town of Windsor is joining the list of communities in western Massachusetts who are taking measures to improve local connectivity with publicly owned Internet infrastructure. The town of fewer than 1,000 people anticipates connecting all residents and businesses before the end of 2019.

Grants Are So Good

Windsor is benefitting from a grant of more than $886,000 from the FCC Connect America Fund, to be distributed over a 10-year period. Six other Berkshire County communities will also receive funding from the FCC; Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) applied for the funding on behalf of the region’s communities. In total, the seven towns will receive more than $2.45 million during the next decade to improve local broadband. The Westfield utility has been working with its neighbors in recent years in different capacities, including as an ISP, network operator, and as consultants.

Community leaders originally estimated Windsor’s planned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network would cost approximately $2.3 million. Select Board Member Doug McNally said that the community may use the award from the FCC to help pay down debt to deploy the network or may be used directly to help residents who have long driveways, requiring more individual investment to connect to the town’s network.

Windsor also received approximately $830,000 from the state in 2017 and previously approved borrowing to fund deployment. Windsor had planned to work with the WiredWest cooperative, until the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) put up several hurdles that interfered with the cooperative’s ability to realize their business model. WiredWest has revamped what it plans to offer member towns and, according to McNally, Windsor may contract with the co-op for Internet access and operate the network.

If Windsor chooses WiredWest, subscribers could choose between symmetrical packages of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $59 per month or 1 gigabit per second for $75 per month. Voice service would cost an additional $19 per month. All subscribers also pay an additional $99 activation fee.

The community could,...

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Posted July 27, 2018 by Hannah Bonestroo

The City of Westfield in western Massachusetts recently launched a new marketing initiative designed to attract business and promote sustainable growth. The GoWestfield campaign features a website and promotional video that focuses on showcasing the many incentives for businesses that the small city of around 41,500 offers, including an environment where businesses can thrive. As the city points out in the video, one of Westfield’s largest selling points is its high-speed fiber optic Internet network.

Check out the video:

Improvements at Home and the Office

Westfield’s locally owned municipal gas and electric company, Westfield Gas & Electric (WG+E) began using fiber optic connections to monitor substations and municipal facilities about 20 years ago. In 2015, the City launched a fiber optic Internet pilot program to about 300 homes and businesses using the existing network. The public Internet service, dubbed "Whip City Fiber," has since expanded its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to more neighborhoods and is taking applications in other areas of the city. 

While Westfield hopes that their new fiber network will attract more businesses, their new video highlights how existing local business are already experiencing positive impacts from the fiber. The co-owner of Westfield’s Circuit Coffee, Ted Dobek, said that people can now more easily come work at his coffee shop because his business connects to Whip City Fiber. Similarly, Al Liptak, the lead video producer at Kirby Productions, can now upload content at his studio ten times faster than with his old ISP. The production manager of Advance MFG, Co., Jeff Amanti, also has experienced the benefits, stating that the fiber has greatly helped the rate of data transfer at his precision manufacturing facility.

The GoWestfield Campaign grew as a partnership between the City of Westfield, Westfield Development, Westfield Bank, WG+E, and Whip City Fiber. While the initiative’s intent is to highlight many of Westfield’s...

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Posted April 19, 2018 by lgonzalez

On April 14th, folks in Alford, Massachusetts, gathered at their fire house to attend a presentation about the bright future of their connectivity. After a long journey to find better connectivity in the small western Massachusetts town, residents and businesses are now subscribing to Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) Internet access from AlfordLink, their own municipal network.

Years Of Work

With only around 500 residents in Alford, it’s no surprise that big incumbents decided the lack of population density didn’t justify investment in 21st century connectivity. By 2012 and 2013, the community had had enough; they decided to pursue their own solution with a municipal network. Alford voted to form a Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the entity that that manages publicly owned networks in Massachusetts.

In addition to the $1.6 million the town decided to borrow to spend on fiber optic infrastructure, the town will also receive around $480,000 in state grant funds. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) is handling distribution of funds to Alford and other towns that have decided to use the funding to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure.

Alford, Blandford, and Shutesbury, are a few of the hilltowns contracting with Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) in Westfield. WG+E’s WhipCity Fiber began by serving only Westfield, but now contracts with other small towns to either assist them as they establish their own telecommunications utilities or to provide Internet access and operate a publicly owned network. In very small communities like Alford, they may not feel they have the resources or expertise to manage a gigabit network, but don’t want to relinquish control of their connectivity to an untrustworthy corporate incumbent.

Last year, Charter offered to take MBI funds and build a network in Shutesbury that the company would own and control. The town rejected the offer for the hybrid fiber coaxial network,...

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Posted January 9, 2018 by lgonzalez

Blandford, Massachusetts, will work with Westfield Gas & Electric (WG+E) to develop a publicly owned fiber optic network. In order to help get the project started, the state’s Last Mile Program has awarded Blandford a $1 million grant.

The funding grant is part of $45 million allocated to broadband infrastructure last fall. In November 2016, the Governor signed a bill that directed the funding to help improve connectivity in western and north central Massachusetts.

Blandford’s network will connect to approximately 96 percent of its premises, including all the residents located on the town's public roads. A little more than 1,200 people live in the town that covers about 53 square miles. The hilltown community is known for the Blandford Ski Area, which has operated for more than 80 years.

Working With Westfield

Blandford joins a list of other western Massachusetts communities looking to WG+E for their expertise and to act as project managers. WG+E trucks began working in Otis last June and the towns of Ashfield, Shutesbury, Goshen, Colrain, Rowe, Chesterfield, Alford, and Heath have also decided to work with WG+E.

Westfield announced almost a year ago that a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project had been so successful that they determined expanding the project to a citywide network made the most sense. Since then, they’ve been expanding one neighborhood at a time and are still working on covering the entire community of 42,000.

In the mean time, WG+E has also branched out to work with other communities like Blandford. They’ve helped prove that even small communities can establish high-quality Internet network infrastructure. WG+E have taken on differing roles with these other municipal partners, depending on what level of expertise the community seeks.

Learn more about WG+E’s network and their work with neighboring communities in...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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Posted July 19, 2016 by lgonzalez

In the spring, Westfield, Massachusetts began to expand it’s Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, Whip City Fiber with a build-out to three additional neighborhoods. Earlier this month, Westfield Gas + Electric announced that they will soon expand even further to three more areas.

According to Dan Howard, General Manager of the utility, the demand for the symmetrical Internet access is strong:

"Every day we hear from residents of Westfield who are anxious for high-speed Internet to be available in their neighborhood," he said. "It's a great motivator for our entire team to hear how much customers are looking forward to this new service."

Gigabit residential access is $69.95 per month; businesses pay $84.95 for the same product but also get Wi-Fi for their establishments. Installation is free. If people in the new target areas sign up before August 31st, they will get a free month of service.

Like a growing number of communities, Westfield started with a pilot project in a limited area to test the level of interest for a FTTH network in their community. They are finding a high level of interest and gaining both confidence and the knowledge to continue the incremental expansion across the community. Other towns with the same approach include Owensboro, Kentucky; Madison, Wisconsin; and Holland, Michigan.

Westfield officials are asking interested residents and businesses to check out the pilot expansion page to determine if they are in the expansion area and to sign up for service. The page also explains how your Westfield neighborhood can become a fiberhood to get on the list for expansion.

For more about Whip City Fiber, listen to Chris interview Aaron Bean, Operations Manager, and Sean Fitzgerald, Customer Service Manager, from Westfield Gas + Electric. They spoke in June during episode #205...

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Posted June 14, 2016 by Staff

This is Episode 205 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Westfield, Massachusetts, now has its own community network Whip City Fiber. To learn more, Chris spoke with Operations Manager Aaron Bean and Key Accounts & Customer Service Manager Sean Fitzgerald.

Aaron Bean: It can be done and it can be done really well at a small municipal level, so fear not. It can be done successfully.

Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 205 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Westfield, Massachusetts has recently deployed its new Fiber-to-the-Home pilot project, Whip City Fiber. The community's municipal gas and electric utility is taking charge of the project, which is growing to more neighborhoods as residents and businesses direct the expansion with early sign-ups. Aaron Bean, operations manager, and Sean Fitzgerald, key accounts and customer service manager both from Westfield Gas and Electric join Chris today. Aaron and Sean describe how this Massachusetts town has started bringing fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to residents and businesses in an area of the state where incumbents just don't offer high-caliber services. Westfield Gas and Electric has a loyal following among the community and is now providing that same level of customer service to its Fiber-to-the-Home customers. Check out our stories on Westfield at muninetworks.org and learn more about the service at whipcityfiber.com. Now here is Chris with Aaron Bean, operations manager, and Sean Fitzgerald, key accounts and customer service manager, both from Westfield Gas and Electric.

Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell and today I'm speaking with Aaron Bean, the operations manager of Westfield Gas and Electric. Welcome to the show.

Aaron Bean: Good morning, Chris.

Chris Mitchell: We also have Sean Fitzgerald, the key accounts and customer service manager also from Westfield, Massachusetts. Welcome to the show. Sean Fitzgerald Thank you, Chris.

Chris Mitchell: I'd lover to start off by learning a little bit about Westfield for people that have not been there. What's the size of the community, what kind of things do you guys do there?

Aaron Bean: Good. Sean, take it away. Sean Fitzgerald Okay...

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