Verizon Pole Attachment Issues Delay West Springfield, MA Fiber Plan

West Springfield MA town seal

New England residents have been complaining about Verizon’s lack of meaningful fiber upgrades for the better part of the last two decades, prompting a steady parade of interest in community owned and operated fiber networks in states like Massachusetts.

But some of these community broadband efforts, such as West Springfield’s plan to deliver affordable fiber access to every city resident, are still being hampered by Verizon.

In 2021 the city (est. pop. 28,000) announced it would be partnering with Westfield Gas and Electric, the publicly owned utility in Westfield, Massachusetts, which has built and operates fiber networks in nearly two dozen communities in the Berkshires. The end result: Westfield Gas and Electric's broadband subsidiary Whip City Fiber plans to deliver West Springfield residents symmetrical gigabit fiber for $75 a month, without long term contracts or onerous hidden fees.

But efforts to launch a $1.8 million pilot project have been on hold thanks to ongoing delays by Verizon and Eversource to prepare local utility poles for fiber attachment, West Springfield Chief Technology Officer Stephanie Straitiff tells local news outlet The Reminder.

West Springfield MA tree lined street

In 2021 West Springfield voted to establish a public utility department tasked with creating a town-owned fiber-optic cable network. They urged locals to sign up for a pilot program in four local neighborhoods, and submitted applications to Verizon and Eversource to ensure access to utility poles to begin “make ready” fiber attachment preparations.

While locals are excited (the town has seen 272 applications from residents for the pilot project and 643 applications for service townwide), the make-ready work remains stuck at somewhere around 25 percent with little explanation from Verizon as to what’s causing the delays.

“It’s a frustrating wait, for sure, but we’re doing everything we can do to push it along,” Straitiff said. “Once this stuff is done, things will really rapidly advance.”

Utility pole diagram

The city’s full network deployment is expected to cost somewhere between $25 and $30 million, though we have seen pole attachment and make-ready work delays add considerable costs to network construction.

Incumbent giants like AT&T and Verizon have long been accused of dragging their feet on pole attachment when it comes to the potentially disruptive impact of broadband competitors.

In some instances, AT&T has attempted to block pole attachment access outright to competitors like Google Fiber in cities such as Austin or Louisville.

Even larger Verizon competitors like Charter (Spectrum) have complained about Verizon’s “anticompetitive” behaviors when it comes to pole attachment work.

A "Connect The Future" report from 2021 found that pole attachment delays–intentional or otherwise–cost Americans between $491 million and $1.86 billion every month.

“Pole owners frequently deny or delay broadband providers pole attachment access, or impose economically unfeasible rates, terms, and conditions that impose excessive costs on broadband providers associated with pole replacement and upkeep,” the study found. “In economics this is known as the ‘hold up problem,’ an inefficient concentration of market power that harms the public interest.”

With an historic influx of broadband subsidies now making their way to municipalities countrywide, there has been a renewed but unheeded call to ensure that such tactics (blocking or delaying pole attachments, or charging unreasonable rates for attachment and make ready work) are included as part of broader efforts at antitrust reform.

Inline image of tree lined street in West Springfield courtesy of Flickr user Rusty Clark, CC BY 2.0 DEED Attribution 2.0 Generic

Inline graphic of what is on a utility pole courtesy of Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative