As towns without broadband work with the state to build fiber optic networks, WiredWest has changed its mission from building, owning and running a regional fiber optic network to providing regional broadband maintenance and operations services, for its member towns’ networks.
“Our role is changing from owning and operating a regional broadband network to managing vendors for our member towns,” said WiredWest Chairman James Drawe. “We’re going to provide services to our member towns, so they don’t have to do it separately.”
Drawe stressed that WiredWest will remain a cooperative, and the benefits to member towns will be that WiredWest can get vendors at better price breaks by securing services for a larger service area.
“Since most towns have neither the administrative staff nor the expertise to handle the responsibilities of running a modern telecommunications network, or they prefer not to develop that capacity on a town level, WiredWest will fill that role by functioning as a regional MLP on behalf of member towns,” says WiredWest’s revised website. MLP (which stands for “Municipal Light Plant”) is the legal designation that gives towns the right to own and operate a utility, including broadband Internet.
Recently, WiredWest put out a “Request for Information” to third party vendors interested in providing some or all services needed to run a regional network. WiredWest received 13 responses by its Sept. 29 deadline and will be reviewing them, to put together an operating plan with cost estimates.
“WiredWest is still in the process of putting together a subscription package for customers,” Drawe said. He said the $49 subscription fees pre-paid by residents for future service under the old Wired West configuration are held in escrow and will be used toward the first month of the new service, once each town goes online.
“WiredWest is no longer directly involved with construction of networks, but now has a long range Plan ... to connect member towns’ networks into a regional network for efficient and cost-effective operation,” it says on the WiredWest website. “We will be providing advice and guidance for towns in planning their networks to be compatible with eventual regional operation. … We are working on a financial plan and business model and hope to have some estimates soon.”
WiredWest incorporated in 2011 to build and own a regional fiber optic “Last Mile” broadband network for western Massachusetts member towns without access to broadband. But in July 2015, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute changed its position on ownership, requiring that towns must individually own the fiber optic network paid for with town and state money. That position essentially forced WireWest to change its plan.
Many hilltowns are now working with MBI directly on the financing and engineering for broadband build-out. While Ashfield, Egremont, New Salem, Shutesbury, and Wendell are the first towns getting MBI’s support to move forward, the MBI has structured its pole survey program to allow additional towns to move seamlessly into pole survey work, without additional delay. For towns proceeding towards a town-owned solution, the pole survey work is followed by design engineering, make ready, and construction steps.