Peabody, Massachusetts, Investing In I-Net

The community of Peabody, Massachusetts, plans to invest in a fiber optic loop as a first step toward better local connectivity.

From I-Net To My Net 

While the infrastructure plans are in place to serve only municipal facilities, city leaders have their eyes on the long-term, which means encouraging competition for their city of about 52,000 people. Peabody's located around 30 minutes northeast of Boston in the North Shore region. Currently, Comcast offers services to residents and businesses, but the cable company doesn’t enjoy much good will in the city.

More than a few communities that now offer varying levels of service to the public began by first developing an Institutional Network (I-Net). As in Santa Monica, a city or county can reduce costs significantly and redirect those savings toward investment, which allows them to later expand both the physical network and the fiber usage into a revenue generating asset. Other communities that have used this strategy include Arlington, Virginia; Hudson, Ohio; and Scott County, Minnesota.

A Better Option

In Massachusetts, each community’s Municipal Light Plant (MLP) manages their electric utility and the municipal broadband service they may offer to residents and businesses. Typically, an MLP has over time developed a favorable reputation with the people it serves, unlike large distant cable companies that aren’t able to provide quality customer service. In Peabody, the community enjoys a good relationship with its MLP, so locals are hoping that the publicly owned fiber project will eventually expand past its original intention. Rates are reasonable in the city; the Peabody MLP announced a rate reduction at the start of 2018.

The Peabody project will first connect local schools, libraries, public safety and public works locations, and other municipal facilities. Local officials don’t have hard numbers, but they anticipate savings when the city no longer needs to lease lines or pay for connectivity from an ISP. The city is also concerned about how the repeal of federal network neutrality protections might affect the budget and contracts with private sector ISPs.

“We’re very early in the process, but we have a pretty good idea what our needs are and the city is looking at its needs,” said Glenn Trueira, the PMLP manager.

Once the PMLP and city departments determine their needs for a high speed fiber loop or loops, the project will then be put out for design before being put out to bid for the fiber and installation.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt announced the project in January. His ambition is to, at the least, put infrastructure in place to encourage new entrants in Peabody. From the Mayor's press release on the project

“High speed fiber networks are critical components of 21st century municipal infrastructure,” said Mayor Bettencourt. “Third party network providers like Comcast and Verizon have not stepped up to better serve our city users, so Peabody is taking an important first step to create our own high-speed fiber network.”