Western MA Getting Connected: Charlemont Is Next

Charlemont, Massachusetts, is asking local businesses and residents to complete a survey to help their Broadband Committee as they move ahead with plans to improve connectivity. At a November information session, the Committee announced that the town would investigate options and pursue plans to deploy a municipal network. They plan to take advantage of state and federal funding administered by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI).

Plans Change

The western town of about 1,200 people intended to work with WiredWest, the broadband cooperative that planned to build a regional network, but MBI interfered with the plans and revoked funding from the group early in 2016. MBI objected to the WiredWest plan to operate as a cooperative of Municipal Light Plants (MLPs), the entity in each community responsible for managing its municipal network. You can read more details about the situation in an April 2016 report from the Berkman Center’s David Talbot, Waide Warner, and Susan Crawford.

Since then, MBI has created criteria for local communities to meet before they can access funding to build their own municipal networks. A number of local communities that once considered membership in WiredWest are moving forward and releasing RFPs, including Alford, Egremont, and Mount Washington. Before Charlemont gets that far, however, they want to find out exactly what the need is in their community.

Looking To Leverett

Like other western Massachusetts towns, Charlemont is looking at Leverett as a possible model. Leverett is home to approximately 1,800 people and chose to use a modest property tax increase to fund a fiber-optic network deployment. After crunching the numbers, community members realized that they would cut connectivity costs and get better Internet access and telephone service if they paid for it themselves rather than continue to shell out for expensive and unreliable services from the incumbent.

While fixed wireless is not off the table, a fiber-optic network is the early favored solution. From the Recorder:

Most of the townspeople present agreed with [Charlemont Broadband Committee Member Bob] Handsaker that opting for wireless broadband wouldn’t be as reliable as fiber — although it would cost less to build. Besides having broadband for home use, he said, “You want to do it for economic development of the town.” For a business that needs high-speed broadband for teleconferencing and high-volume use, “Wireless might not be enough,” he said.