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Wireless internet proposed for Hawley, Monroe



Recorder Staff
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

HAWLEY — Internet access for little Hawley and Monroe?

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) has received a proposal to build a multi-town wireless network through Hawley, Monroe, Savoy and Florida that could be paid for with existing state broadband grants — without additional costs to town taxpayers.

The proposal comes from WiValley, a Keene, N.H.-based internet network builder and service provider that has designed, built and run wireless and hybrid fiber/wireless systems in 50 communities in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts, according to Kirby “Lark” Thwing of Hawley’s Communications Committee.

For this project, WiValley has hired the Interisle Consulting Group, which is familiar with these heavily forested Berkshire hilltowns and has performed last-mile feasibility studies in them.

The estimated cost for the build-out for roughly 96 percent of each town’s households and businesses would be between $2.5 million to $2.7 million, depending upon how much fiber optic cable would be required to supplement the wireless system, in population-dense areas. This cost estimate includes the connections to the homes, according to Thwing.

Under this plan, the towns would own the utility poles and any towers needed to support the system, but the costs are to be paid for with their Last-Mile broadband grants. “The towns would own any poles and towers, and WiValley would own the electronics in the town and in the homes,” Thwing explained. “We have to put in our own poles, but part of the state money would go for installing them. If, for any reason, WiValley fails to provide us service, the electronics would fall (be acquired) to our town,” he said.

If the proposal is supported by all towns by March, the wireless network could be up and running by December 2018, according to news posted by the Broadband Committee.

The monthly subscriber fee would start at $59.95 per month, for a base package of 12 megabits per second download, with no data cap and low-signal latency. In reaction to the potential starting cost, Thwing said, “$59.95 is terrific.”

Thwing said WiValley submitted its proposal to MBI in October, and made a presentation to the towns last month.

For the plan to become a reality, all four towns, MBI and WiValley have to be on board with it. Also, their participation is necessary for the network signal to be transmitted to the towns. And Charlemont’s permission would be necessary for the construction of a pole on Legate Hill, that would transmit signals from the fire town in Savoy and relay them to Hawley.

Thwing said Hawley officials have discussed this possibility with the Charlemont Selectboard.

“We’re waiting now to hear that MBI is OK with the WiValley proposal,” said Thwing. “If it is, then the towns need to support it.”

Thwing said a town meeting vote on this isn’t necessary, but the Communications Committee has recommended that the Selectboard hold a town meeting, to be sure of community support.

Thwing said the town also has a fiber-optic proposal from Crocker Communications, but that proposal would cover only about 65 percent of the roadways in Hawley and provide access to about 60 percent of its 330 residents. He said the projected user fee for the fiber network would be about $100 per month, with homeowners to pay between $500 to $750 for the broadband connection between the road and their homes.