Tag: "westfield ma"

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 love 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...

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Posted June 7, 2016 by christopher

Last month we wrote wrote about the Whip City Fiber Pilot project in Westfield, Massachusetts expanding and this week we interview two people from Westfield Gas & Electric about the effort. Aaron Bean is the Operations Manager and Sean Fitzgerald is the Key Accounts and Customer Service Manager.

We discuss their pilot project, how they structured the services and pricing, and integrated the new telecommunications services into the municipal utility.

We also discuss whether the lack of a television option is limiting interest from potential subscribers and how they are picking the next locations to expand the network.

The sound effect we use in the intro is licensed using creative commons. We found it here.

Read the transcript from this show here.

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

This show is 18 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Forget the Whale for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "I Know Where You've Been."

Posted May 3, 2016 by lgonzalez

Another pilot program is evolving into greater things.

Whip City Fiber, the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network deployed by Westfield Gas & Electric (WG+E) in Massachusetts, announced in April that it has chosen three more neighborhoods for network expansion. Residents in the target neighborhoods are invited to sign-up by May 15th for one month’s free service. WG+E offers symmetrical 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) service for $69.95 per month for residents and $84.95 per month for commercial subscribers. Wi-Fi routers are included; there is no charge for installation and no contracts. 

Whip City Fiber only offers Internet access but like other municipalities opting out of video services, they see the trend toward Internet TV:

"This is not TV. But what we see is a lot of cord cutters that are streaming programming on Netflix, Hulu and Apple TV," [WG+E marketing and customer service manager Sean Fitzgerald] said. "The only thing missing are sports channel and those are coming around."

Expanding Use Of Fiber In Westfield

A Berkman Center report on nearby Holyoke Gas and Electric referenced Westfield’s recent pilot project. WG+E began using fiber-optic connections to monitor substations and municipal facilities, including schools and administrative buildings, about 20 years ago. The community also has a Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the entity responsible for owning and operating a municipal fiber network, and used the fiber infrastructure to provide Internet access to Westfield’s municipal facilities and local businesses for the past ten years.

In February, WG+E announced that it would expand the network beyond the pilot area and encouraged residents to express their interest by signing up. It was through those sign-ups, in part, that the utility determined these first expansions. According to WG+E General Manager, choosing the target area was no easy task:

“It was difficult to decide where to build next given the strong enthusiasm shown throughout many areas of the city. Unfortunately, we can’t build everywhere at once.” Howard said. “Our priority is to bring the service to as many...

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Posted July 29, 2015 by phineas

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...

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