The following stories have been tagged leverett ← Back to All Tags

Muni Fiber in Rural Massachusetts - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 113

Though much of western Massachusetts has poor access to the Internet, the town of Leverett is in the midst of fiber build that will offer a gigabit to anyone who wants it. Peter d'Errico, on the town Select Board, has been part of the project from the start and Chairs the Broadband Committee. He joins us for Episode 113 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

He and I discuss the great need for the project and inaccurate broadband maps that overstate availablility in the region. We discuss the role of the "municipal light plant" law that gave them the necessary authority to invest in the fiber.

But more interestingly, we talk about how they have structured the financing and prices for subscribers. The network will be repaid both with the revenues from subscribers and a modest bump in the property tax. The kicker is that many households will see their taxes increase a little but the amount they spend on telecom will decrease substantially, resulting in more money in their pockets each month.

We have written about Leverett often over the years, the archive is here. Read the Leverett FAQ here.

You can read a transcript of this discussion here, courtesy of Jeff Hoel.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 18 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Waylon Thornton for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bronco Romp."

Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference September 16 - 18

Join Chris in Springfield, Massachusetts for the Community Fiber Networks conference in September. The meet-up is part of Broadband Communities Magazine's  Economic Development series; Chris will present at the event. The conference will run September 16 - 18 at the Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel.

Jim Baller, Conference Chairman and Principal at the Baller Herbst Law Group notes:

During the last fifteen years, thousands of communities across the United States have sought to attract or develop advanced communications networks, recognizing that such networks can provide them and the nation multiple strategic advantages in the increasingly competitive global economy. In virtually every case, fostering robust economic development has ranked at or near the top of the list of considerations motivating these communities.

Broadband Communities chose Springfield because there are multiple projects in the region, including MassBroadband123, Leverettnet, and Holyoke.

You can register online for the event and check out the agenda to plan your weekend.

MassBroadband 123 Complete in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) just announced that the 1,200-mile fiber network MassBroadband 123 is now complete.

According to the official announcement, the middle-mile network will eventually serve over 1,200 community anchor institutions. The open access network, constructed with $45.4 million in stimulus funding and an additional $40 million in state bond proceeds, lit up in March 2013. Schools, hospitals, and municipal government are some of the entities already connected.

Communities with a history of little or no middle-mile options will now have some level of connectivity via MassBroadband 123. The Commonwealth hopes to attract last-mile providers to connect homes and businesses, something we have yet to see succeed. We are afraid a more likely scenario will be a few providers seeking to connect the highest revenue customers with no intention to connect everyone, an outcome that would perversely make it more expensive to build financially sustainable networks in these areas.

A few places, like Leverett and Princeton, plan to invest in their own publicly owned infrastructure and will have the option to connect to the outside world through MassBroadband 123. This is an excellent approach that we applaud because it leads us to universal access.

According to a Bershire Eagle article, the state legislature plans to bring more funding to the initiative for last-mile connections:

But state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, pointed out in an interview that much investment is needed before individual homeowners and businesses can connect to the network.

The state Senate is poised to move on a bond bill which includes $50 million to be put toward the project's phase, Pignatelli said.

"The state has made a very big commitment in hopes that the private sector would step up," Pignatelli said. "The time is now."

In our experience, middle mile networks change the economics of the operating costs for fiber networks, not the capital costs. The high upfront capital costs are what deter investment and robust middle mile networks do little to change that reality, which is why communities are smart to step up and make the necessary investments.

New Case Study of Leverett, Mass, Muni Network

We first reported on Leverett in the spring of 2012. Leverett, a small town of 2,000, also attracted Susan Crawford's attention. Crawford and Robyn Mohr recently wrote a case study on the community's efforts to build its own fiber network. The Berkman Center for Internet & Society released the paper on December 16, 2013.

Readers will remember that Leverett, tired of being dismissed by large providers, decided to build a FTTH network to each home in town. Construction of the network, funded by a modest tax increase, is now underway.

The report, Bringing Municipal High-Speed Internet Access to Leverett, Massachusetts offers these main findings, as reported on Crawford's blog:

LeverettNet is a last-mile fiber to the home network that will be operated by a publicly controlled Municipal Light Plant entity. The MLP will operate independently of Leverett’s political infrastructure, but will be required by state law to charge subscribers no more than the cost of providing service.

The network will connect every household in Leverett. Although every residence and business will be linked to LeverettNet, individual homeowners will have the discretion to decide whether to subscribe.

LeverettNet was planned to take advantage of MassBroadband 123, a publicly funded fiber network recently built to connect towns (but not individual homes and businesses) in Massachusetts.

Long-term leadership, planning, and community engagement by Leverett’s public officials prompted the citizens of Leverett to approve a modest property tax increase in return for the long-term benefits of a FTTH network.

Although LeverettNet has opted for a tiered set of access plans, had it decided to deliver 1Gbps to every home and business in Leverett the cost of service to subscribers—including Internet access and phone service, state and local taxes, access fees, network operation fees, and maintenance fees—would have been $61.30 per household per month.

In Western Mass, Holyoke Gas and Electric Brings Broadband - Community Broadband Bits Episode #65

Holyoke Gas & Electric has been connecting community anchor institutions and local businesses in Western Massachusetts with fiber networks for years. Rather than using exception access to the Internet as a competitive advantage over more poorly connected neighbors, the Municipal Light Plant (in the parlance of Massachusetts law) is helping nearby towns to establish their own networks.

I met Senior Network Engineer Tim Haas in a lunch with people building community owned networks in Leverett and Princeton in late August. He joins me for episode #65 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We discuss the Holyoke approach, its network, and enthusiasm for assisting others in the region to improve access to the Internet.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 17 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Leverett On Track for Fiber Network in Massachusetts

We have followed developments in Leverett since we first learned about the small town's decision to build its own next generation infrastructure. The community has faced some challenges but is determined to get its residents connected.

After an overwhelming vote to support a bond measure and minor tax increase to fund the network, Leverett encountered delay when the State attorney general ordered a new bid in April. According to a GazetteNet article, a technical glitch on the bid form allowed bidders to exclude themselves from parts of the project, affecting the overall bid. Leverett awarded the first bid to G4S, but two other firms submitted complaints prompting the review.

After reviewing revised bids in May, Select Board awarded the $2.27 million contract to Millennium Communications Group. The GazetteNet reports that Millennium met with town officials in June to answer questions and examine the bid in detail.

The GazetteNet spoke with Select Board Member Peter d'Errico: 

“When this is up and running, Leverett’s going to have state-of-the-art, worldwide telecommunications capability,” d’Errico said. “It’s comparable service to what Google is providing in Kansas City, and it means that Leverett will also become a desirable place for all kinds of people who work in the mediums that require that level of technology. I see it as having economic benefits for the town, cultural benefits for the town and when you add in things like telemedicine, it means that it’s more than lifestyle, it’s quality of life.”

Scheduled completion date is December 2014.

Princeton, Massachusetts, Considering Building Own Fiber Network

We recently reached out to Princeton, Massachusetts, after reading several local news articles about the city's ambition to improve broadband in the community. Phyllis Booth of the Landmark has been covering the story. Community leaders recently mailed survey cards to every residence in town and put the survey online to provide ample opportunity for feedback.

With survey results complied, the answer from respondents was an overwhelming, "Yes! We want better Internet!" The Princeton Broadband Committee has since made the results available in a series of visuals that express the community's experiences with speed, customer satisfaction, desirable applications, and other respondent concerns. Detailed survey results are available for review [PDF].

The results come as no surprise to Stan Moss, Board of Selectmen Member who is also on the Broadband Committee. "Everybody has tried everything," says Stan when he describes the survey outcome. The community of 3,300 has access to DSL in about 49% of households and other choices are satellite, dial-up, and wireless. According to Moss, Princeton DSL customers averaged a D+. From the Landmark article:

“Once we invest in the fiber it’s pretty good. It’s not costly to upgrade in the future, it’s reliable once it’s in place,” said [Broadband Committee Member John] Kowaleski. “If the town doesn’t do this, no one will,” he added. The town has contacted Verizon and Charter and “we’re not even on their plan,’’ said Kowaleski. “Princeton has insurmountable challenges. It isn’t profitable for Verizon or any other company to provide the infrastructure to give us the service,” said Kowaleski.

Moss says he receives calls on a regular basis from residents who want to know when the city is going to provide FTTH. Most of those calls come from people who work from home or have school age children.

Princeton, Massachusetts Map

K-8 Schools in Princeton currently use slow and unreliable T1 connections and bringing fiber to the students is a high priority. High school students attend in a nearby consolidated school. Often prospective families tour the local school and are thrilled to see small class sizes and an intimate setting. "When they learn that there is no high speed Internet for their children, you never see them again," says Moss.

While not set in stone, The Massachusetts Broadband Initiative (MBI) plans to bring its middle mile network to the local Thomas Prince School. The public library, the town hall, the public safety facility, the senior center, and the municipal light department will likely also be connected through MBI. Princeton's Broadband Committee wants to use that momentum to get households connected and capitalize on the benefits of ubiquitous access.

Real estate professionals in Princeton expect a direct benefit from a fiber network. They attribute lower property values in Princeton, in part, to the lack of high speed connectivity. There are a number of prospective telecommuters and home based businesses who have also spoken out in favor of a municipal FTTH network. One entrepreneur in Princeton who would like to work out of his home, spends $2,000 on office space in another city just to have productive Internet speeds.

Princeton is looking to Leverett, Massachusetts, as an example. (Btw, Princeton is not the first community we have encountered watching Leverett's process - way to go Leverett!) The Broadband Committee sees similarities between Princeton and Leverett and has watched the rural community as it move ahead. Both are rural, tree covered, hilly, and charming says Moss. "When I see some one new in town I ask them how they come to move to Princeton because you don't end up here by accident."

Readers will recall that Leverett plans to fund the project with a municipal bond. Debt service on the bond will be paid with revenue from the network and a property tax increase, about 6%. The community has already voted to approve the measure. Princeton believes a similar approach will work for them. From the Landmark:

We believe we can do this for even less than people are paying right now for Internet, said Kowaleski. “If the town funds it with a municipal bond we could have this in place by January 2015,” he added.

...

The committee is estimating monthly cost for fiber to the home would be $63.30. With a 20-year bond to pay for the buildout, the cost for the average homeowner (based on a home valued at $303,280) for taxes would be $284.90 per year, for a 20- year average.

According to the committee, the average cost today for subscribers for the Internet and phone bill is between $101 and $130, depending on whether the user has satellite, DSL or wireless. The new network cost would be $63.30 per month, plus $25.27 per month for the tax cost for the bond, for a monthly cost of $88.57.

Princeton Broadband Logo

While there may be some similarities with Leverett, Moss notes that Princeton has fewer more households over twice as many road miles, creating a more sparsely populated community. Fortunately, it also has an advantage not found in Leverett - a chance to hang their cable expeditiously.

Moss tells us that Princeton has worked with the local municipal light plant to reach an arrangement to speed up the process. Leverett has to wait for Verizon to prepare poles for the new fiber, estimated to take six to twelve months. Princeton's municipal light plant will allow fiber optic cable to be hung in the places reserved for power line attachments.

To save money and speed up the process, the Broadband Committee will take on the task of documenting utility poles. From another Leader article:

At the Monday, March 11 meeting, committee chairman Steve Cullen told selectmen that committee members and volunteers will do the work, saving taxpayers as much as $50,000. “We have the technology to do this,” said Cullen. “We’ll look at every single road and utility pole, take photos and bring the information to an engineering company to cut back on the time line.” Documenting the poles accounts for approximately 60 to 70 percent of the expense related to design costs, said Cullen.

The next step will be a series of community meetings to report the results of the survey. Moss expects the Broadband Committee will approach residents at the May 14th Town Meeting where they will ask for approval to fund a network design. Moss is optimistic and believes the city may be hanging fiber optic cable as early as October.

Regardless of what approach they take, the people who live there are hungry for something better. We found one survey question and the results especially revealing. When asked "What Internet speed would prompt residents to change Internet providers?," 60% of respondents answered, "Any speed, as long as it's faster."

Rural Leverett Network in Western Massachusetts Moves Forward

Leverett, Massachusetts' broadband initiative has moved to the next phase in bringing fiber to residents. The town selectboard recently decided on a bidder to build the community owned network. G4S designed the network and also works with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) as it brings a middle mile fiber network to towns across the western half of the state [PDF of service area].

An article in The Recorder alerted us to the development. Readers will recall that Leverett townspeople voted to ok a modest property tax increase as a way to help finance the ftth build out. From the article:

Indeed, after years of trying to convince private business to develop and offer high-speed telecommunication service in rural western Massachusetts, Leverett’s first-of-its kind network is being built with the help of a $40 million state bond, $47 million in federal stimulus funding and the town’s willingness to borrow to build infrastructure to attract service.

D’Errico said the cost of the project should be lower than $300 a year per median $278,000 property owner over 20 years.

...

...D’Errico said the $300 annual tax addition for the median value property is likely far lower than what residents are paying for their telephone, satellite dishes and cable service connections, and that having the town own the infrastructure likely means that the service contracts should also be a fraction of what they would cost otherwise.

Before construction can start, utility poles will need to be made ready for placement of the fiber optic cable. While this stage of the prep work is expected to take up to six months, hanging the cable would only take about three months.

MBI Logo

Leverett is inspiring other Massachusetts communities, who also want to own the infrastructure that will allow them to connect to MBI's network, MassBroadband 123.

In fact, Montague selectmen on Monday said they support a move by residents of their town’s Chestnut Hill section — which is contiguous to North Leverett — as they seek to connect with Leverett’s network. The North Leverett Firehouse, the connection point for Leverett’s fiber network to plug into MBI’s fiber network, would be the source of the connection into the system the roughly 50 Montague households seek to build.

As more local communities see how Leverett and similar communities overcome obstacles to achieve connectivity, we are confident that municipal networks will be options they consider.

An editorial in the Recorder points out how local leadership has played an instrumental role in the plan to expand connectivity in town and encourage other communities across the state:

However, it’s not only state government that has a role here. Leverett would not be poised to complete access without town officials seeing the role the town must play and an acceptance on the part of a solid majority of residents willing to see taxpayer money go toward this project.

Perhaps as the Massachusetts Broadband Initiative continues its work to provide access elsewhere, other towns will see that they, too, need to be part of the financial solution in wiring their community. Part of any persuasion, we think should start with what the governor said in October 2007. “Today’s global economy requires that every corner of our commonwealth be wired for the 21st century ... The digital divide that persists in too many Massachusetts communities has gone on for long enough.”

Thanks to the citizens of Leverett, we are closer to finally bridging that divide.

We will bring more on Leverett as the project progresses.

Network Moves Forward in Leverett, Western Massachusetts

This past spring, we introduced you to the small town of Leverett, in rural western Massachusetts. Having been largely ignored by the cable companies and left behind by Verizon's DSL service, the community overwhelmingly approved a town-owned network initiative in a May vote. They decided to finance the FTTH network with a 20-year bond measure.

The debt will be serviced by both the revenues from selling services on the network and a modest increase in property taxes estimated at 6%. Local leaders calculate the increase in property taxes will amount to less than the savings created by lowering existing DSL and telephone services. 

Peter d'Errico, of the Leverett Broadband Committee gave us an update via email:

We issued a Request for Information (RFI) in September. Thirteen respondents gave us a wealth of information about the state of the industry and their readiness to engage with our project. Based on this information, together with our already-completed network design, we are now crafting an Invitation for Bids (IFB) for the network build and one year's maintenance. We expect to issue the IFB early January, with a return date in February, which will allow us to select a contractor shortly thereafter.

As soon as we issue the IFB, we will draft a Request for Proposals (RFP) for network operator / service provider. This will also be based on the information gathered from the RFI and our design.

We have initiated the 'make-ready' process with the local utility and phone company.

A November Gazette.Net article [requires login] on the project described some temporary setbacks due to Hurricane Sandy and an October storm that came through the area. In order to keep the project momentum going, the committee is  gathering the pieces needed now and in the future. Early prep work will make launching the network that much easier. From the article:

Leverett homeowners already received an easement request in the mail along with their property tax bills last week, which they were asked to sign and return to the Town Clerk’s office. The form will give the town permission to install connection points between the town’s central grid and individual properties.

“It’s a necessary step; once we input the network itself, we’ll be able to go house by house and set up the last segment for each one,” d’Errico explained, noting a strong response to the request so far. “We’ve received tons of signatures back very quickly. We should be in good shape for that final step when we reach it.”

We will pass on more info about this project as it becomes available.

Broadband is Essential Infrastructure for Communities

In August, we reported on the results of a report on UTOPIA by the Office of the State Auditor General of Utah. As you will recall, the results were less than favorable and presented more fodder for those opposed to municipal telecommunications infrastructure investment.

The same old arguments often rest on the financial investment in municipal networks - they are considered failures if they don't break even or make money. Pete Ashdown, founder of ISP XMission in Utah, addressed those arguments in the Salt Lake Tribune:

UTOPIA provides broadband service in 11 Utah cities. Today, communication infrastructure is no less critical than transportation, sanitation and clean water. Government is not a business, but the infrastructure it provides contributes to a robust business environment.

Consider how private businesses rely on government funded infrastructure. Why don’t entrepreneurs clamor to build the next generation of roads? Why don’t airline companies get off the public dole and build their own facilities? Why are sewer facilities so rarely handled by anyone else but the state?

Does effective infrastructure cost? Considerably. Does it make a profit? No.

For decades now, public service entities have contended with the argument that if they are "run it like a business" they will be more efficient, productive and even profitable. While lessons from the private sector may contribute to increased efficiency at times, government is NOT a business. Applying business tenets should be done sparingly and not in the case of critical infrastructure like electricity, roads, and yes, access to the Internet.

Gary D. Brown, who lives in Orem, shared a guest opinion through the Daily Herald and drew a similar parallel between UTOPIA's status and the business world:

When UTOPIA was first proposed, I was all for getting a fiber optic connection to every home and business in the at-that-time 17 cities. In my opinion, the original business model was sound; install fiber to each home/business and offer data, voice, and television services at the retail level.

Of course, the entrenched incumbent businesses, namely US West (it became Qwest and now CenturyLink), Comcast, and AT&T, who would face real competition, sent their lobbyists to the state legislature and after some intense lobbying, got the legislature to eviscerate the UTOPIA business plan by passing a law that prohibited community-based consortiums such as UTOPIA from offering services at the retail level.

UTOPIA will forever remain in the news because its financial struggles forced member communities to pay part of its costs through sales taxes. Though most community owned networks have not used tax revenues to support the network, we do support the right of communities to do so if they so choose.

We have covered the story of Leverett, where the community imposed a property tax increase on itself to pay for part of a new community owned fiber network. Communities that want to build networks entirely without tax subsidy should be free to do so, but those that want to pay for part of it with tax dollars should also have the right. That should be a local discussion, possibly a heated one. But it should not be decided in state capitals or Washington, DC.