West Springfield, MA Breaks Ground On Citywide Fiber Plan

West Springfield MA town seal

West Springfield residents recently gathered to break ground on a plan to deliver affordable fiber access to all 28,000 city residents. The effort, first conceived in 2021 during the height of the pandemic, involves working with Westfield Gas and Electric's broadband subsidiary Whip City Fiber to deliver symmetrical gigabit fiber.

Whip City only currently offers residential customers one tier of service: symmetrical gigabit fiber for $75 a month. A recent OpenVault report found that the percentage of subscribers on gigabit speed tiers grew 29 percent last year, with one-third of subscribers now provisioned for gigabit speeds. Whip City users can also access phone service for an additional $20 a month.

The first subscribers should be lit up for service by the end of this year, officials say. It’s the culmination of a project that began in 2019 when city officials first considered the construction of a city-owned broadband network; emboldened in 2020 after city leaders and locals alike became frustrated by Comcast’s implementation of technically unnecessary and punitive usage caps.

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 $1.5 million 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.

But the city faced intentional delays in getting pole attachment approval from Verizon, which hasn’t been keen to see a new competitor emerge in a market they’d long dominated. Incumbent monopolies routinely employ intentional pole attachment delays in a bid to slow down–or derail entirely–the arrival of new fiber competitors.

But things seem to have accelerated since, with the city recently holding a groundbreaking ceremony in conjunction with Westfield Gas and Electric. Utility pole “make ready” work is now about 80 percent complete in the city’s pilot neighborhoods, and should be completed by April.

The city’s full network deployment is expected to cost somewhere between $25 and $30 million, starting with a smaller $1.5 million pilot project and the construction of a key $637,677 fiber hut. Most of the incurred project debt will be paid for with bonds, ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) grants, and ultimately – revenue from the city’s popular project.

The city’s new fiber hut, at 1695 Westfield St. in Mittineague Park, will serve 20 neighborhoods, West Springfield Chief Technology Officer Stephanie Straitiff recently told The Reminder.

Once pole make-ready work and the new fiber hut is completed, the city expects to begin stringing fiber beginning this spring, with customer service going live in the pilot neighborhood before the end of the year. The city maintains a progress map on the Whip City Fiber website, tracking which neighborhoods will see deployment priority.