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Leverett OKs broadband developer

LEVERETT — The Selectboard has agreed to sign a $2.7 million contract to build a fiber-optic line connecting every home and business in town, the first town in the region to offer high-speed Internet and telephone service to every resident.

G4S, the Florida-based technology corporation that also designed Leverett’s fiber-to-the-home network, was selected from eight bidders to build the project, which will be town owned. With a system operations and maintenance provider yet to be selected, service is expected to be ready sometime in 2014.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Selectman Peter D’Errico. “We’re happy to pass this milestone.”

The municipally owned network, for which town meeting last spring voted to borrow as much as $3.6 million, will connect with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute’s $71.6 million MassBroadband 123 “middle mile network” ­— also being built by G4S and due to be available in town in June — will provide subscribers with 1 gigabit-per-second connections, allowing for businesses that use computer servers as part of their Internet-based operation, as well as streaming of videos and voice-over Internet telephone.

“This tells me this can be done,” D’Errico said. “The (306-33) vote in Leverett shows that people are aware there are some things government can do.”

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.

Leverett’s broadband committee, which had recommended G4S to the Selectboard, has already begun drafting a request for proposals to operate and maintain the network, and it will also move ahead with seeking a clerk of the works to oversee construction.

Before actual construction can begin on the network, Western Massachusetts Electric Co., Verizon and National Grid will have to prepare the 1,400 or so utility poles to accept the stringing of cable — work that Robert Brooks of the town Broadband Committee said could take up to six months but will be done in sections, with stringing of fiber — a three-month process, said Brooks — following closely behind.

Leverett, which received a $40,000 grant in 2011 from MBI to pay for the design the system and estimate how much it would cost to build, has helped other towns, including Princeton in northern Worcester County, as they consider building their own “last mile” systems.

“MBI is looking at us to effectively provide a template that many towns can follow,” said Brooks.

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.

Ultimately, Montague Selectman Patricia Allen said, what’s involved would be town meeting votes to establish a municipal light plant and betterment district.

Back in Leverett, 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.

The Leverett network will not provide television service, he said, but the future of television delivery appears to be on the Internet anyway, he added.

Brooks said the town will likely seek to take out short-term loans at interest rates under 1 percent before it goes to the bond market, probably in 18 to 24 months when construction is complete. Given the town’s credit rating, he said, the expectation that borrowing costs would be around 3 percent.

You can reach Richie Davis at
rdavis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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