Tag: "massachusetts"

Posted November 3, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Broadband was on the ballot as voters went to the polls for Election Day in many areas. Here’s a quick run-down of what happened.

Colorado

The Colorado state law (SB-152) that bans local governments in the Centennial State from establishing municipal broadband service suffered another defeat at the ballot box. Since the law was passed nearly two decades ago, more than 150 Colorado communities have opted out. That number continues to grow and we can now add the town of Windsor to the list of municipalities in the state who have voted to restore local Internet choice.

At the polls yesterday, 77 percent of Windsor voters said yes to Ballot Question 3A, which asked “shall the Town of Windsor, without increasing taxes by this measure, be authorized to provide high-speed Internet services (advanced services), telecommunications services, and/or cable television services … either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners?”

The passage of the ballot question allows Windsor to opt out of SB-152, although as reported by The Colorodoan, town leaders do not intend to establish a new municipal broadband utility as Loveland, Fort Collins, and Estes Park have done in the Front Range region of the state. Rather, Windsor will “pursue a public-private partnership with Highline Internet to bring high-speed Internet and phone service to the town … Highline would build, own and operate the network, though Windsor has the option of contributing money or assets (with voter approval) in exchange for a share of revenue.” Highline Internet is a company operating in multiple states that we have not often come across before.

In Milliken, just 16 miles...

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Posted August 17, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Springfield prides itself as a “City of Firsts.” Located in central Massachusetts, 90 miles west of Boston, Springfield is where the nation’s first armory was located and where the first U.S.-made automobile was built. It’s also the birthplace of basketball and Theodor Geisel, better known by his pen name “Dr. Seuss.”

Last month, the city took its first step to explore whether it will become the first of New England’s five biggest cities to build a municipal fiber-to-the-home network.

Channeling Dr. Seuss, who famously wrote “only you can control your future,” city officials are in the process of issuing a Request for Proposals to conduct a feasibility study to explore if Springfield (est. pop. 154,000) will control its digital future by meeting “the growing demand for reliable and affordable Internet service.”

According to a press release issued by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s office, “the study would review such items including but not limited to the current Internet equipment and infrastructure in place across the city, gauge public interest, provide a cost analysis on infrastructure investment, review and assess maintenance cost, possible revenue sources, and exploring potential public/private partnerships and collaborations for the benefit of consumers.”

Pandemic Exposed Digital Chasm

The city is currently served by Comcast Xfinity and Verizon DSL. But, according to City Councilor Jesse Lederman, a leading advocate for better broadband in Springfield, the pandemic exposed a growing digital divide in the city while surrounding communities are increasingly being served by fiber networks.

“The COVID-19 pandemic made a few things very clear,” Lederman told WAMC public radio. “The Internet has become an essential utility for residents and businesses. During COVID...

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Posted August 9, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Between the U.S. Treasury clarifying that American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds are eligible to be spent on middle-mile infrastructure and the U.S. Senate’s proposed infrastructure bill directing NTIA to establish a $1 billion grant program to support the deployment of middle-mile networks, federal assistance aiming to improve middle-mile access is imminent. 

Cities and states across the U.S. have already committed portions of their federal relief funds to boost access to middle-mile infrastructure. City officials of Brownsville, Texas approved a plan in July to use $19.5 million of ARP funds to construct a 95-mile-long middle-mile broadband network. In Suffolk, Virginia, city council members set aside $5 million of relief funds for the first phase of a regional project to construct an open access, middle-mile fiber ring. 

The Governor and State Legislature of California recently settled on a $3.25 billion agreement to build statewide public middle-mile infrastructure, “one of the largest state investments in public fiber in the history of the United States,” reports Ernesto Falcon for EFF.

The sudden surge in middle-mile investment may bring about confusion over what middle-mile infrastructure is and give rise to questions over the necessity of such investments. A new fact sheet from the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) clarifies commonly held misbeliefs about investing in public middle-mile infrastructure. Read CSAC’s new fact sheet here [pdf].

Investments in Public Middle-Mile Needed to Confront Monopolies

Upon State Governor Gavin Newsom introducing his plan...

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Posted July 16, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

We have covered on numerous occasions the fiber-to-the-home boom underway in the rural hill towns of western Massachusetts. Now we are seeing a number of communities around the Boston metro area in the eastern part of the Commonwealth, as well as in other of the more populous towns and cities across Massachusetts, exploring the possibility of building their own community broadband networks.

In the rural environs of the Berkshires the demand for municipal fiber networks was primarily driven by a need for high-speed Internet connectivity in small towns with only outdated DSL or satellite-based Internet service as options. In the larger cities and towns in other parts of the state, by contrast, the driving force for better broadband has been a desire to introduce competition into a market dominated by the regional monopoly providers (Comcast, Verizon and Charter-Spectrum) that have left many communities starving for a cheaper, faster, and more reliable option. 

The towns are at different stages. Some are moving through the study and design phase. Some are stalled. Some have decided to work with third-party providers. And one is on the cusp of building a fiber network, beginning with a pilot project. Here is snapshot of nine different communities and where they stand. (It is not an exahustive list of towns in Massachusetts contemplating municipal networks). 

Agawam

Just three miles south of Springfield is Agawam, a town of approximately 28,000, home to the only Six Flags Amusement Park in New England. What Agawam residents do not find amusing, however, was when Comcast announced plans to introduce monthly data caps and associated fees for customers who exceeded those caps. It was enough to convince town officials they should explore building their own municipal broadband network.

The town formed the Agawam Municipal Fiber Task Force and charged the task force with reviewing “the feasibility of the Town constructing and operating its own fiber network, partnering with another municipal fiber network, and/or the potential of a private company...

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Posted May 19, 2021 by Jericho Casper

In his $100 billion “California Comeback Plan”, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing to devote $7 billion to invest in expanding broadband access over the next three years, with $4 billion of that to be used for constructing a statewide middle-mile, open access fiber network.

The $7 billion earmarked for broadband in the budget proposal, referred to as the “May Revision” [pdf], specifically includes:

  • $4 billion for a statewide middle-mile, open access fiber network to connect Census Designated Places (CDP) which lack access to broadband service capable of providing 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) downstream 

  • $500 million for a Loan Loss Reserve Account, a public financing program to assist local governments, Tribes, and nonprofits financing new municipal fiber networks

  • $500 million for one-time payments to broadband providers serving rural areas where it is more costly to build community networks

  • $2 billion for the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to incent existing and new Internet Service Providers to build last-mile infrastructure

Gov. Newsom’s infrastructure plan now heads to the State Legislature, where it must be voted on by June 15.

Newsom’s plan is to allocate this funding over a period of several years, allotting $2 billion of federal Rescue Plan funds in Fiscal Year 2021-22, and $1.5 billion in state General Fund resources combined with $3.5 billion in Rescue Plans funds in Fiscal Year 2022-23. To fund the overall $100 billion budget proposal, if passed, the state would combine a total of $25 billion in federal relief funding with $75.7 billion from the state’s budget surplus.

“Let’s get this done once and for all, so that no future administration is talking about the scourge of the digital divide,” said Gov. Newsom, in a press conference on Friday. “This is what the federal stimulus from my perspective was all about: catalytic investments to make generational change. This is one of those investments.”

Newsom’s Plan Provides Technical Assistance Teams and Loans for Communities

More specifically, the “Comeback Plan” would construct a public backhaul network that connects cities and critical anchor institutions to one another, while leaving local communities, cooperatives,...

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Posted May 4, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

As the oldest son of the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie — the Town of Washington, Massachusetts’ most famous resident — built a name for himself as a singer-songwriter by letting folks know, “You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant.”

But if you ask the town’s Broadband Manager Kent Lew, there was one thing that was not on the menu in Washington before last year: high-speed Internet connectivity.

That’s no longer the case as the small town of Washington (pop. 549) has been on the vanguard of rural communities in the hill towns of the Berkshires that have built out (or are in the process of building out) Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks to bring gigabit speeds and affordable connectivity for residents for decades into the future.

The Pandemic: Curse & Blessing

“On the eve the Governor announced the (pandemic) shut down in March of 2020, our first Fiber Service Area was ready,” Lew recalled in a recent interview with us. “It was tremendous that we were able to do this just as people really needed it.”

As one of dozens of Western Massachusetts towns working in partnership with municipal utility provider Westfield Gas + Electric (which operates Whip City Fiber) to build broadband infrastructure, it was in 2015 that Town Meeting voters authorized a $770,000 bond issuance to finance half the construction costs of the $1.47 million network. The other half came from state grant funding.

The network design work wrapped up in 2018 with construction beginning in earnest the following year. The First Service Area was set to be lit up in March of 2020 and the entire rest of the network, which passes all 280 premises in town, was completed two months later in May of 2020 with construction crews having deployed 26.5 miles of fiber.

Still, the initial months of the pandemic lock-down, Lew said, was a “very frustrating period. Just...

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Posted April 14, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Weymouth, Massachusetts is considering building municipal network as a result of "residents experienc[ing] undesirable coverage options and rates because of the lack of competition from other providers, officials say."

From The Patriot Ledger:

[Mayor Robert] Hedlund will submit a proposal to the Weymouth Town Council asking to use about $25,000 to fund a master plan as the first step in the process. The money would come from the host community agreement with Algonquin Gas Transmission, the company that owns the natural gas compressor station.

Posted February 9, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Leyden is located in one of the most rural parts of northwestern Massachusetts, along the edge of the Berkshires tucked away in the valleys of the Green River bordering Vermont.

Though it is only 47 miles north of Springfield and 96 miles west of Boston, this town of about 800 residents is one of only a handful of municipalities in the entire Commonwealth that does not have any state routes running through it, similar to the islands of Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard off the southeast coast of Massachusetts.

And while Leyden is not a geographical island, it has been a digital outpost barren of broadband. That is until now - with the birth of Leyden Broadband as the town is nearly done with the construction of a 35-mile Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

From DSL ‘Backwater’ to Fiber Haven 

“Without any major routes here, we get very little ancillary traffic through town. It’s kept us below the radar. We’ve always been a lightly populated hill town that doesn’t really offer a financial reward for the big telecom companies to come in with high-speed broadband,” Andy Killeen, chair of the Leyden Municipal Light Plant and volunteer head of the town’s fledgling Broadband Department, told us this week.

“Folks were running DSL but that worked pretty poorly. We are not close to the copper (DSL) hubs, which means you could pretty much handle email, but that was about it,” said Killeen, who owns and operates a home safety and security business in the nearby town of Greenfield.

The DSL days are over for residents in this 18-square mile town. Leyden may be a “kind of backwater town,” as Killeen put it, but the townspeople are Leydenites; not Luddites.

“We’ve gone from industry-trailing Internet [access] speeds to top-end network connectivity with gigabit speed that rivals anything you can get in Boston,” Killeen said, looking out of his living room window at the nearby mountain range as a bird streaked across the winter sky, his son cozied up next to him streaming a Disney Plus movie in 4K.

Killeen and his family aren’t the only ones in Leyden enjoying the new high-speed connectivity. Of the 343 households in town, 268 have already subscribed for...

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Posted January 30, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Local citizens and officials have been moving the needle on the Falmouth Community Network, completing a feasibility with the help of CCG Consulting in December and continuing to pursue public awareness and education efforts in the area. ILSR's Christopher Mitchell joined Cape, Coast, and Islands Radio on Tuesday to talk about the effort and the promises it holds for those who live in the area.

Other guests on the show include:

David Isenberg, Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Bell Labs, Senior Advisor to the FCC's National Broadband Plan, and Board Member of FalmouthNet.

Marilois Snowman, CEO of MediaStruction, a media and marketing firm in the Boston area, V.P. of FalmouthNet, Inc.

Sam Patterson, Falmouth Select Board member and Select Board's Representative to the Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC).

Listen to the episode here.

Posted January 22, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Western Massachusetts stands as maybe the most dynamic place for municipal broadband at the present, with almost two dozen cities pursuing projects. And while the slate has many similarities between them, each has a unique starting point and has followed its own path along the way. 

Cummington (pop. 800), which straddles the banks of the Westfield River thirty miles northwest of Springfield and twenty miles east of the New York border, has just completed its municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. It has been almost a decade in the making, and despite seeing its share of obstacles along the way, residents can now look forward to years of fast, affordable Internet access. 

Stuck on DSL

Ten years ago, Cummington had no high-speed Internet access options. Verizon offered the only DSL service in town, and its network in the area remained a relic of upgrades focused not on residents there but in the population centers to the east. Only half the town was covered, relegated to download speeds in the single digits and upload speeds at a fraction of that. The rest of the town’s residents were stuck with satellite service, which was even slower and more unreliable with changing weather. 

The story of broadband for western Massachusetts is a winding road. At the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the state of Massachusetts received initially funding for its MassBroadband 123 backbone network (currently, it’s operated by KCST USA, formerly Axia Networks), which would bring middle-mile infrastructure to schools and libraries in 120 towns and communities in the area (including a spur in Cummington [pdf]) by 2014. Residents, however, remained unconnected. 

In 2010, Municipal Light Plant Chairman Allan Douglas shared, the town got together to explore options. In the spring and summer of 2011 it voted to join WiredWest, the consortium of towns which have banded together to pursue better broadband. An engineering study completed by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute determined last-mile...

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