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Hawley, hilltowns pick WiValley broadband plan



Recorder Staff
Thursday, June 14, 2018

HAWLEY — After hearing a revised broadband plan from WiValley, broadband committees in Hawley, Monroe, Florida and Savoy unanimously agreed to hire that vendor and its new partner, OTELCO, to build a fixed-wireless network using only the combined $2 million in broadband grant money allocated to the towns by the state.

And if the plan is approved in a “master agreement” between the state, towns and vendor by July, the new network could be operating in Hawley as early as this October.

“With OTELCO in the mix, Bill Ennen said he was sure the towns would not have to front any money for the infrastructure,” said Hawley Broadband Committee Chairman Kirby “Lark” Thwing.

Ennen, of the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, is the liaison for local communities in the state’s “Last Mile Project” to bring high-speed internet to unserved towns, mostly located in western Massachusetts.

OTELCO is a NASDAQ-traded telecommunications company with holdings in Massachusetts, Maine, West Virginia, Missouri and Alabama. Among its holdings is Granby Telephone and Telegraph, which is described as an “independent local telephone and internet service provider.”

Under this revised plan, WiValley will “construct, own and operate the FHMS Network (Florida, Hawley, Monroe, Savoy),” while OTELCO “will act as the internet service provider, delivering phone, internet and other broadband services to each customer on the FHMS Network.”

“In addition, OTELCO will provide initial financing to cover the costs of Phase I and Phase II of the FHMS Network construction,” says the proposal WiValley gave the towns.

The telecommunications company is to be reimbursed through the towns’ broadband grant allocations.

Also, because the collaboration between WiValley and OTELCO creates operation and service efficiencies, the monthly prices to customers have dropped. Instead of spending $59 a month for basic internet services or $69 per month for a higher speed, network subscribers will now pay $45 per month for basic internet or $55 per month for a higher speed.

Town officials from all four towns met in Florida, Mass., earlier this month with WiValley President Brian Foucher to hear the revised offer, which they unanimously accepted.

If a master agreement is completed by July, most transmitter sites could be installed and fully running by December, according to WiValley’s plan. Phase I would establish the core of the network by August; Phase II targets the build-out into Hawley by October; Phase III would complete the build-out of Savoy by November; and Phase IV would complete the build-out of Florida and Monroe by December.

In late May, the four towns heard a second proposal from RedZone Wireless of Maine, but company officials wanted the towns to give them 90 days to put together a proposal. Several town officials at that presentation said they didn’t want to lose another construction season by delaying a decision.