Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Content tagged with "wired west"
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.
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.
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.
This is the transcript for Episode 271 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Research Associate Hannah Trostle takes over as host in order to quiz Christopher Mitchell on the latest developments in community networks. Listen to this episode here.
Christopher Mitchell: I can't believe we're freek'n talking about satellite again!
Lisa Gonzalez:This is Episode 271 of the community broadband bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. What do the FCC satellite internet access mobile broadband. Madison, Wisconsin, and utility poles in Louisville, Kentucky, have in common. They're all in the recent community broadband news and they're all in this week's podcast. In this episode, Research Associate Hannah Trostle boots Christopher from the host chair to interview him about some significant recent developments. For more details on these and other topics check out the appropriate tags at MuniNetworks.org. Now, here's Hannah and Christopher.
Hannah Trostle: Welcome to the Community Broadband Bits podcast. This is your host this week Hannah Trostle. Joining me is the normal host Christopher Mitchell.
Christopher Mitchell: I don't know how normal I am but thank you for having me on my show.
Hannah Trostle: Now we're going to kick you off, and I'm only going to do the podcast from now on.
Christopher Mitchell: I can't say I don't deserve it.
Hannah Trostle: Well you've been gone quite a bit. Where have you been?
After a friendly coup in the offices of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Hannah has taken the podcast host chair from Christopher for episode 271 of the Community Broadband Bits. Hannah grills Christopher on where he has recently traveled, interesting lessons, and recent news around community broadband. (Christopher mentions a great event in Pittsfield - video available here.)
The conversation starts with a discussion of why recent travels strengthened our belief that full fiber-optic networks are the best approach for the vast majority of America in the long term. Christopher and Hannah discuss the future of low-latency networks and what is more cost-effective over decades rather than just over the first few years.
They go on to discuss their fears of the FCC legitimizing satellite and mobile wireless connectivity as good enough for carrier of last resort in rural regions. The show wraps up with a discussion about One Touch Make Ready in Louisville and Madison's RFP for a fiber network partner.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
People in Otis, Massachusetts, are now seeing utility crews make space for fiber optic cable on poles as they prepare for the community’s publicly owned Internet network. The schedule calls for cable installation in August; the network should start serving residents and businesses this fall.
Working With A Neighbor
Like several other hill towns in western Massachusetts, Otis is working with Westfield Gas + Electric’s WhipCity Fiber, which will handle construction of the network. WhipCity will construct the network in phases, connecting premises as neighborhoods are completed. The project will connect 1,687 premises and will cost approximately $5 million.
Construction is finally able to commence because in May, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) released funding for last mile broadband networks to several towns that advocated for their own solutions. Otis received $1.7 million. Communities like Otis that chose to invest in publicly owned infrastructure are required to contribute to the cost of their network.
MBI chose to release the funds after a drawn out situation in which unserved and underserved communities in the western part of the state first planned to unite as a broadband cooperative, WiredWest. MBI was the administrator of approximately $50 million in federal stimulus and state grant funding but withheld the funds. They felt there were problems with the WiredWest business model, but local towns and municipal network experts did not share those concerns. Instead, MBI planned to dole out the funding to large incumbent providers, which angered many of the local communities that have expressed dissatisfaction with treatment by those very companies over the years. Comcast will still obtain large amounts of the grant money to build out in several of the smaller communities. Those small towns will not be required to contribute, but 100 precent of their premises are not always served and they will not own the infrastructure.
In western Massachusetts, about 40 communities have spent nearly a decade trying to improve Internet service. Governor Baker recently took a step to help clear the way. He took $20 million out of the control of the struggling Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI).
Now, towns can apply for $20 million in infrastructure grants through the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development. MBI will now refocus on other projects, like managing its middle mile network and refining agreements with large cable companies.
The transition marks a change in state policy that many local communities have longed for because they've seen MBI as an obstacle, rather than an aid, to improving better connectivity.
Quick Turn Around for Grants
It’s a step in the right direction for towns that depend on slow DSL, expensive satellite, and even those that still use dial-up connections. Communities that belong to the WiredWest cooperative, which has been in negotiations with MBI for years on it business model, are especially glad to see the shift. In mid-March, local leaders and representatives from MBI and Housing & Economic Development met to discuss development of a new grant process.
After that meeting, a WiredWest representative from Plainfield, Massachusetts, Kimberly Longey, told the local newspaper Berkshire Eagle:
"What we really need is the ability to have self-determination in this process. … We're cautiously optimistic. We think this is a good step. I have a feeling that things are lining up."
The Recorder and MassLive recently revealed some of the details of this new grant process. Procedure will follow the proven model of the Housing & Economic Development’s MassWorks program, which provides funding for major infrastructure projects like sewer and water systems.
Even though they don't have to chip in any local funds, the town of Shutesbury, Massachusetts, rejected Charter’s proposal to build a hybrid fiber coaxial network in their community. They don’t consider the proposal a “good long-term solution to bring broadband to our town" and prefer to build a publicly owned fiber-optic network for future-proof technology, provider accountability, and local control.
You Get What You Pay For
Unlike Charter’s proposal to serve only 96 percent of the homes in the community, the town made a commitment to include all members of the community some time ago. Charter would not extend its proposal to include about three dozen properties that are further out unless the town committed to providing funds above and beyond what the state offered to provide as part of the proposal. Board of Selectmen Chair Michael Vinskey went on to tell MassLive that Charter would not commit to a specific cost for extending a network to those additional homes.
In the words of Vinskey, committing to such an ambiguous arrangement, “would not be fiscally responsible.” No kidding.
Shutesbury authorized spending for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network once already. In 2015, folks at the annual Town Meeting voted to approve $1.7 million in bonding to pay for the infrastructure. They’ll take another vote this May for the debt exclusion authorization, as required by state law.
Community leaders estimate deployment to every property at approximately $2.57 million. Their share of the state grants that are to be distributed by MBI come to $870,000 for construction and professional services. Like the community of Leverett, Shutesbury intends to use a modest property tax increase to fund the infrastructure investment.
Whip City Fiber has big plans to serve more residents in its hometown of Westfield, Massachusetts, and is already helping some of its neighbors as they seek better connectivity.
Expanding At Home
In February, Westfield City Council unanimously approved the municipal utility’s request for a $15 million bond to fund expansion to more areas of the city. Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity is currently available to approximately 15 percent of the city. The additional funds will allow Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E) to expand the network to about 70 percent of the community, or about 10,000 additional households. WG+E is planning the expansion on a two-year timeline.
As in the past, WG+E will use the “fiberhood” approach, giving priority to neighborhoods with the highest interest. They will also consider seasonal practicalities and the locations of existing infrastructure. According to their announcement, they will be installing overhead services this month and will begin underground installation when the ground thaws.
As Westfield’s FTTH has grown piece by piece, they’ve had opportunities to work out the rough patches and determine what challenges communities in western Massachusetts may face when they build out Internet networks. Now, WG+E is reaching out to other communities who are looking for guidance.
State Finally Releases Funding
A change in recent policy from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) has enabled Westfield and it's neighbors to have a little more control over their telecommunications future.
Since 2014, MBI has grappled with how it intends to distribute $50 million worth of state funding designated for communities in need of better connectivity. After several changes in policy, the agency required rural towns to get approval from MBI for business plans and to work with the organization before they could receive funding. The agency and the state have been widely criticized for its heavy-handed, yet slow-footed approach.
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).
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