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Content tagged with "westfield ma"
But town officials weren’t there to roll out a shiny new ladder truck or to bring their kids to meet Santa. They were there to bring glad tidings of the launch of construction for Becket Broadband, a municipal Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) network that will usher high-speed Internet connectivity into this small Massachusetts hill town.
Since the town received a $3 million state grant to fund the initial work to build the network nearly four years ago, Sertex construction crews have been working and will continue through the winter to string fiber cables on utility poles along the town’s approximately 100 miles of roads with the build-out expected to be complete in 2022.
The project manager for the network’s construction is Westfield Gas & Electric, the city of Westfield’s gas and electric utility which received $10.2 million from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) auction to expand fiber networks in 20 nearby communities in western Massachusetts, including Becket.
Whip City Fiber’s Next Phase: Connecting Hill Towns in Western Massachusetts — Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 429
This week on the podcast Christopher talks with IT Manager John Leary and Customer Experience, Marketing, & Communications Manager Lisa Stowe from Westfield Gas & Electric, the municipal utility for the city of 40,000 in the southwestern quadrant of the Massachusetts. The topic of the day is Westfield's municipally owned fiber arm — Whip City Fiber — which is doing some wonderful things as it enters its next phase of life.
First, John and Lisa share their thoughts on the history of the network and what they see as key characteristics of its early success: Whip City embraced a model of incremental buildout in its early years, managing expectations and pursuing careful growth during its $2 million pilot project before transitioning, thanks to a $15 million municipal bond, to expanding so that today the network covers 70% of the city.
The group then digs into Whip City Fiber’s next phase of life: bringing municipally owned gigabit Internet to twenty Western Massachussetts Hill Towns over the next few years, including (but not limited to) Alford, Ashfield, Chesterfield, Leyden, New Ashford, New Salem, Otis, Plainfield, Rowe, Washington, Wendell, and Windsor. With Whip City’s help now and eventual role as Internet Service Provider (ISP) and network operator, nine are already online, with the rest to follow by the end of next year.
The group ends by talking about the future and getting to 100% coverage in Westfield, and the utility’s commitment to closing the digital divide.
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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) started its broadband division WhipCity Fiber and the buildout of their network five years ago. The project started with only serving Westfield, but WG+E is now contracting with other small towns in Massachusetts to assist in building and potentially operating their own fiber networks.
Today, WG+E is slated to help connect 12,400 households in 20 Massachusetts towns over the next 10 years. In order to do this, WG+E and WhipCity Fiber will receive more than $10 million over the next ten years through the Federal Communication Commission’s Connect America Fund Phase II auction, which awarded $1.5 billion in subsidies to broadband providers to expand rural connectivity across the nation. The 20 towns that are partnering with WG+E to build fiber networks are: Alford, Ashfield, Blandford, Becket, Charlemont, Chesterfield, Colrain, Cummington, Goshen, Heath, Leyden, New Ashford, New Salem, Otis, Plainfield, Rowe, Shutesbury, Washington, Wendell, and Windsor.
Adapting While Expanding
Westfield has been slowly building out its network, which is owned and operated by WG+E, and it is now roughly 75 percent complete. Lisa Stowe, the communications manager at WG+E, said that they temporarily paused new installations in Westfield due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, she is hopeful that they will begin connecting new customers and resume their buildout of the network this year.
To construct the WhipCity Fiber network, Westfield issued a $15 million bond. The city must pay down that bond and do routine updates to the network as they continue expanding. Stowe explained that they are well on track to having the network fully constructed within their original six year timeline.
As the novel coronavirus has spread across the United States, so too have efforts to bring Internet access to digitally disconnected households during a time of nationwide social distancing. Washington and Massachusetts are on different coasts, but both states are working with publicly owned broadband networks to deploy emergency Wi-Fi hotspots in underserved communities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In Washington, a state-led initiative is deploying hundreds of new Wi-Fi access points with the help of community networks, including Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), a statewide middle-mile network, and several Public Utility Districts (PUDs). And on the other side of the country, Massachusetts has enlisted the help of municipal network Whip City Fiber to establish Wi-Fi hotspots in communities with poor connectivity.
The drive-up public hotspots will allow residents of both states to complete online school assignments, apply for unemployment insurance, and connect with healthcare providers, among other essential tasks.
“We’ve all been in a position where we understand to connect to the world during this really challenging time, Wi-Fi is essential,” said Dr. Lisa Brown, Director of the Washington Department of Commerce, during a livestreamed launch of the state Wi-Fi initiative.
Washington Partners with PUDs for Wi-Fi
Residents and businesses in Windsor, Massachusetts, are on the cusp of high-quality Internet access delivered on their publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure. After years of coping with slow, unreliable connectivity, this spring will herald in Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access in the town of fewer than 900 people.
It's Almost Here
About a year ago, we reported on the community's project. They received grants from the FCC and from the state toward the $2.3 million fiber optic network. Like several other communities in western Massachusetts, including Plainfield, Alford, and Otis, Windsor will own the infrastructure while Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) provides Internet access via the network through its WhipCity Fiber. WiredWest, the regional collaboration of towns which began as a cooperative network but evolved in recent years to be an ISP and network operator, will manage operation of the network for Windsor.
While grants have helped to drastically reduce the cost of deployment to Windsor, the community will still need to contribute to cover the remaining costs. The Berkshire Eagle reports:
Today, a key financial question for the Windsor project concerns the cost of getting service from the network to homes, the final link known as a "drop." With help from an additional state grant and the town's own resources — $300,000 tapped from a stabilization fund — the first $2,000 in the cost of a drop will be covered.
[Select Board Member and Municipal Light Plant Manager Doug] McNally expects that 85 percent of Windsor subscribers will not have to pay personally to have drops reach their homes. Gov. Charlie Baker approved reimbursing Windsor $750 for each drop, lessening the expense for the town and its new network's customers.
At the 2019 Annual Town Meeting, voters in Plainfield, Massachusetts, unanimously approved the $150,000 necessary to begin operating the Plainfield Broadband network. Westfield's Whip City Fiber, about 35 miles south, will be working with Plainfield to manage the latter's network. Plainfield Broadband expects to have Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) high-speed Internet service to a few homes at the end of 2019 and a finished network in 2020.
The funding comes to about $150,000 in the 2020 town operating budget, and will cover the Plainfield Broadband project expenses. Departmental receipts will pay for about $132,000, and the remaining $18,000 will come out of taxes. In future years, however, the network will be funded through service receipts according to Plainfield Broadband Manager Kimberley Longey in the local newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
Longey also told the Daily Hampshire Gazette that 162 residents have signed up for Internet access from Plainfield Broadband; if another 110 residents sign up for service, then the network will be in a secure financial position. Plainfield residents can register online or at the local library.
Plainfield is a small town of only about 600 people and the plan is to bring high-speed Internet service to several homes in late 2019 with a full rollout in 2020. The prices for the Plainfield Broadband services are $85 each month for residential Internet service and $12.95 for phone service. Residential service has upload and download speeds of up to 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps), and there is no contract for the service.
A Collaboration of Community Networks
Expect to see more Massachusetts communities connected to their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks during 2019. Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E) has been working with the rural towns on the western side of the state, and an increasing number of the projects are nearing completion. With the arrival of their broadband hut in December, the folks in New Salem embraced their Broadband Committee’s adopted motto, “This Is Really Happening!”
Summer of Speed
Broadband Committee members estimate their publicly owned community network will launch in July as they bring better Internet access to the town of about 1,000 people. After more than three years of seeking a way to high-quality Internet access, delivery of the hut was a physical manifestation of the hard work needed to make this goal happen. Committee member Sue Dunbar told the Greenfield Recorder, “It’s a huge, big brick visual reminder to the town residents, who have been waiting for so long, that this is a reality.”
There's Always Ups and Downs
The project has not been without snags. Underestimates of make ready costs, partly due to long driveways for some potential subscribers, drove up deployment costs, which are still not finalized at around $3 million. A few property owners had opposed new utility poles on or near their property, which hampered a smooth deployment. The fact that the state’s Department of Conservation & Recreation owns swaths of New Salem also interfered with the process by adding an additional level of approval to pole installation.
According to Dunbar, however, New Salem is collaborating with nearby Shutesbury and Wendell, and that collaboration is helping to improve the deployment process. All three communities have contracted with WG+E to build their publicly owned networks. Wendell expects to begin connecting premises in the fall, while Shutesbury is aiming for a May launch.
The small town of Windsor is joining the list of communities in western Massachusetts who are taking measures to improve local connectivity with publicly owned Internet infrastructure. The town of fewer than 1,000 people anticipates connecting all residents and businesses before the end of 2019.
Grants Are So Good
Windsor is benefitting from a grant of more than $886,000 from the FCC Connect America Fund, to be distributed over a 10-year period. Six other Berkshire County communities will also receive funding from the FCC; Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) applied for the funding on behalf of the region’s communities. In total, the seven towns will receive more than $2.45 million during the next decade to improve local broadband. The Westfield utility has been working with its neighbors in recent years in different capacities, including as an ISP, network operator, and as consultants.
Community leaders originally estimated Windsor’s planned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network would cost approximately $2.3 million. Select Board Member Doug McNally said that the community may use the award from the FCC to help pay down debt to deploy the network or may be used directly to help residents who have long driveways, requiring more individual investment to connect to the town’s network.
Windsor also received approximately $830,000 from the state in 2017 and previously approved borrowing to fund deployment. Windsor had planned to work with the WiredWest cooperative, until the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) put up several hurdles that interfered with the cooperative’s ability to realize their business model. WiredWest has revamped what it plans to offer member towns and, according to McNally, Windsor may contract with the co-op for Internet access and operate the network.
If Windsor chooses WiredWest, subscribers could choose between symmetrical packages of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $59 per month or 1 gigabit per second for $75 per month. Voice service would cost an additional $19 per month. All subscribers also pay an additional $99 activation fee.
The City of Westfield in western Massachusetts recently launched a new marketing initiative designed to attract business and promote sustainable growth. The GoWestfield campaign features a website and promotional video that focuses on showcasing the many incentives for businesses that the small city of around 41,500 offers, including an environment where businesses can thrive. As the city points out in the video, one of Westfield’s largest selling points is its high-speed fiber optic Internet network.
Check out the video:
Improvements at Home and the Office
Westfield’s locally owned municipal gas and electric company, Westfield Gas & Electric (WG+E) began using fiber optic connections to monitor substations and municipal facilities about 20 years ago. In 2015, the City launched a fiber optic Internet pilot program to about 300 homes and businesses using the existing network. The public Internet service, dubbed "Whip City Fiber," has since expanded its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to more neighborhoods and is taking applications in other areas of the city.
While Westfield hopes that their new fiber network will attract more businesses, their new video highlights how existing local business are already experiencing positive impacts from the fiber. The co-owner of Westfield’s Circuit Coffee, Ted Dobek, said that people can now more easily come work at his coffee shop because his business connects to Whip City Fiber. Similarly, Al Liptak, the lead video producer at Kirby Productions, can now upload content at his studio ten times faster than with his old ISP. The production manager of Advance MFG, Co., Jeff Amanti, also has experienced the benefits, stating that the fiber has greatly helped the rate of data transfer at his precision manufacturing facility.
On April 14th, folks in Alford, Massachusetts, gathered at their fire house to attend a presentation about the bright future of their connectivity. After a long journey to find better connectivity in the small western Massachusetts town, residents and businesses are now subscribing to Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) Internet access from AlfordLink, their own municipal network.
Years Of Work
With only around 500 residents in Alford, it’s no surprise that big incumbents decided the lack of population density didn’t justify investment in 21st century connectivity. By 2012 and 2013, the community had had enough; they decided to pursue their own solution with a municipal network. Alford voted to form a Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the entity that that manages publicly owned networks in Massachusetts.
In addition to the $1.6 million the town decided to borrow to spend on fiber optic infrastructure, the town will also receive around $480,000 in state grant funds. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) is handling distribution of funds to Alford and other towns that have decided to use the funding to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure.
Alford, Blandford, and Shutesbury, are a few of the hilltowns contracting with Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) in Westfield. WG+E’s WhipCity Fiber began by serving only Westfield, but now contracts with other small towns to either assist them as they establish their own telecommunications utilities or to provide Internet access and operate a publicly owned network. In very small communities like Alford, they may not feel they have the resources or expertise to manage a gigabit network, but don’t want to relinquish control of their connectivity to an untrustworthy corporate incumbent.