Municipal Broadband Provider Whip City Fiber Serves Up Win “For Everybody”

Westfield MA logo

With Big Telecom’s assault-on-competition campaign as loud (and misleading) as ever, a small municipal broadband utility in Massachusetts is quietly showcasing one of the many reasons why building publicly-owned, locally controlled broadband infrastructure is gaining in popularity, racking up awards, and earning high subscriber satisfaction rates in communities across the nation.

With an eye on keeping local dollars close to home for community investments, last week the Westfield City Council voted to approve an $11.1 million bond for a new athletic track and field at the local high school, thanks to the success of Westfield Gas & Electric’s broadband subsidiary Whip City Fiber. And though the return on investment may not be as eye-popping as the $2.7 billion Chattanooga's municipal network, EPB Fiber, has reaped in Tennessee, Westfield officials hailed the community investment as a “huge moment” for local residents.

Westfield Gas and Elec worker with kids

The Westfield City Council vote comes on the heels of WG&E’s Municipal Light Board authorizing the bond the city needs to build the new athletic fields, which will be paid for out of the profits the municipal utility has acquired from building and operating fiber broadband service in nearly two dozen cities and towns in western Massachusetts.

In the months before the vote, officials from the city’s Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments worked with school officials, city councilors and city hall staff to conduct a survey of city needs and to explore how much WG&E would be able to fund.

As the local news outlet The Reminder reports, what was settled on is an arrangement in which WG&E pays up to $1 million a year for the bond “with the vision of creating first-rate athletic facilities for Westfield.”

“The $11.1 million bond goes out 15 years, the usual lifespan for a bond for athletic fields, and will be paid by WG&E on top of current payments,” Westfield Mayor Michael McCabe told The Reminder. “Currently, WG&E pays $580,000 in lieu of taxes a year. This payment will increase to $1,580,000. The funds will not be coming from Westfield ratepayers, but from outlying communities.”

With nearly half of its subscribers residing in Westfield, over the past decade Whip City Fiber has grown to serve 20 additional communities and now boasts a subscriber base of 16,500 – all of whom get symmetrical gig speed service for $70/month with free installations and WiFi, but without long-term contracts or hidden fees.

Whip City Fiber logo

Over the next year, Whip City Fiber’s subscriber base will grow as the municipal utility is currently building a citywide fiber network in nearby West Springfield, after that city of 28,000 held a groundbreaking ceremony earlier this spring.

WG&E general manager Thomas Flaherty, who originally floated the idea of using Whip City Fiber revenue to help fund city improvements, said it reflects the utility’s desire “to give back to the community’s ratepayers and residents.”

“This significant investment in Westfield is in partnership with the Mayor and his administration and Westfield Gas & Electric. It’s just a huge moment.”

City Councilor Brent Bean said the city has been looking to upgrade its athletic facilities for years. Now, thanks to the success of Whip City Fiber, the city is able to move forward with a project that “everyone can use … not just high school athletes, but something for everybody. We don’t have a track to have our track team play on – the community can use it as well, which is excellent.”

Inline image of WG&E worker with children courtesy of WG&E Facebook page