Utility poles survey means progress toward Shutesbury broadband

For The Recorder
Wednesday, October 12, 2016

SHUTESBURY — Professional surveys of utility poles in Shutesbury, an important step toward ensuring construction of a fiber-optic broadband network, is scheduled to start next month.

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute at MassTech recently announced that Shutesbury is one of four Franklin County towns, along with Ashfield, New Salem and Wendell, and Egremont in Berkshire County, where surveys are beginning so that the poles will be ready to support the broadband equipment.

Gayle Huntress, co-chairwoman of the Shutesbury Broadband Committee, said Tuesday that the Selectboard at its Oct. 20 meeting will sign a memorandum of understanding with Osmose Utilities Services of Syracuse, N.Y., MBI’s selected vendor, to undertake this $20,000 survey.

“This gives a better estimate of what it will take to get the poles ready for fiber,” Huntress said.

The start of pole surveys is part of the so-called “last-mile” program that seeks to bring broadband access to unserved communities in western and central Massachusetts.

The pole survey process involves technical evaluations of each pole, including taking photographs and height measurements, determining their overall condition through engineering analysis and placing their precise locations through GPS technology.

Then, working with the utilities that own the poles, such as Verizon and National Grid, MBI will enter into agreements to place new fiber-optic lines and other hardware on the poles.

The pole survey supplements work done by volunteers in Shutesbury in fall 2014, when they collected information about every utility pole in the 27.2-square-mile town.

“We’re pleased MBI is taking tangible steps to move this project forward,” Huntress said.

In 2015, Shutesbury Town Meeting agreed to spend $1.69 million to build the fiber-optic network. MBI will pay for about 40 percent of the full cost, around $2.6 million.

Huntress estimates that high-speed internet will be available to Shutesbury households sometime in 2018, though even once built there may be questions about who will operate it.

Broadband Committee Cochairwoman Asha Strazzero-Wild said committee members are having conversations with Leverett leaders about their experience with a municipally owned system, as well as officials in other towns where pole surveys are taking place.

An informational session on the status of broadband will be held at 7:15 p.m. Nov. 17 by the Broadband Committee at Shutesbury Elementary School.

Osmose began collecting pole data in Ashfield on Oct. 3 and Egremont on Oct. 10, and will spend about four to five weeks in each town.

The pole survey work follows several grants awarded since the MBI and the Baker-Polito administration announced a new framework for implementing “last-mile” broadband projects in unserved and underserved communities in May, including a $4 million award in August to Comcast to extend broadband networks in nine western and central Massachusetts communities, including Huntington and Pelham.