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Greenfield to begin offering cheaper, town-owned Internet service next spring

Service will start with lower-cost, lower-speed service for Wi-Fi devices



Recorder Staff
Friday, April 29, 2016

GREENFIELD — By next spring, Greenfield residents and business owners are expected to have access to town-run wireless Internet at cheaper rates than currently available through commercial providers.

Beginning July 1, Mayor William Martin says, he will appoint a general manager to oversee the service that will provide Internet, telephone — and possibly television.

Eventually, the municipal service will grow to an 18-person operation composed of technology experts, customer service representatives, maintenance and repair employees, sales people and more, according to Daniel Kelley, president of Kelley Management Group Inc. in Wilbraham, the town’s consultant for the project.

The service — to be known as Greenfield Community Energy and Technology (GCET) — will offer a low-cost Internet service throughout town, as well as telephone service through Voice over Internet Protocol, which allows subscribers to make voice calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of an analog phone line.

Kelley said he’s also been researching and discussing with providers how the service might be able to provide television over the network, although he said negotiations can’t begin until GCET is launched July 1.

Once a final engineering study is completed this summer, at least one outside company will be hired to install between 80 and 100 miles of fiber.

“That will be anywhere from 750 to 1,000 access points so that people have both mobile access to the network as well as access in their homes and businesses,” Kelley said, adding the process will take nine or 10 months to complete.

The low-end, low-speed, entry-level service will be $9.95 per device per monthfor wireless Internet access anywhere in town. While it has been described as called a “mobile plan,” the service will likely be more useful for home use by those with little money but a desire for Internet on at least one device in their homes.

Kelley also said the Federal Communications Commission is proposing a $9.95 low-income subsidy for some Internet providers, which could, in effect, allow GCET to provide virtually free Internet to some residents.

This entry-level service would allow specific Wi-Fi-enabled devices, whether a desktop or a smartphone, to draw on the town’s wireless signal directly but at low speeds.

But a more typical option forhomes and businesses would involve an antenna installed at the subscriber’s home or business — typically inside the building near a window — which captures the town’s wireless signal and then provides a direct, secure link to a router that can connect to multiple devices by cable or local Wi-Fi. The receiver would allow higher speeds than the so-called mobile service.

How much is it?

Kelley said it’s too soon to say exactly how much the service will cost, as the mayor is forming an advisory committee that will work with the general manager to determine pricing. However, he has said in the past that the town will likely charge a base price of $29.99 per month for the antenna-based home service and will offer customizable speeds from 25 megabits per second up to gigabit speeds.

A network operation center will be built at the same time as the townwide fiber installation, which will house the telecommunications equipment. Kelley said there will also be a downtown office somewhere on Main Street where people can stop by to learn about the service.

“It’s walk-in customer service also, so if someone wants to come in and order equipment, they can do that,” he said.

Because GCET is a not-for-profit entity, Kelley said the goal is to break even. As more customers sign up and the business generates more revenue, rates could be lowered. Some revenue could also be returned to the town’s general fund for the benefit of taxpayers who are providing the upfront money in the form of the $5 million loan.

Kelley said home subscribers can be added incrementally throughout the process after July 1, so residents won’t have to wait until the entire build-out is complete to sign up.

Fiber build-outs are already complete on sections of Main and High streets, and the town has been offering a free wireless Internet pilot program in those locations since October 2015. Kelley said that program, called GreenLight, has been successful, with an average of 2,800 users a day.

In about two weeks, he said a login system will be deployed so that GreenLight users can be identified.

“At that point, we will know who the customers are that are using the network” already, he said.

Once the townwide buildout is complete, the free downtown Internet will disappear, although Kelley said some have suggested providing half an hour of free Wi-Fi for visitors who shop locally or opening community centers where people can access free Internet.