Broadband connected in first sector of Charlemont

  • Members of the Charlemont Broadband Committee at the ribbon-cutting celebration at the Charlemont Fairgrounds on Sunday, Aug. 8. The committee answered questions about Charlemont’s new municipal fiber-optic network, provided information about installation and ate cake with those present. From left: Cheryl Handsaker, Ken Hall, Mary Ellen Banks, Bob Handsaker, Trevor Mackie, Doug White and Valentine Reid. Contributed photo/Cheryl Handsaker

For the Recorder
Published: 8/22/2021 4:00:43 PM

CHARLEMONT — The town has passed a significant milestone on the road to broadband, with Whip City Fiber having connected the town’s first users to the new fiber-optic municipal internet service, Charlemont Connect.

An ongoing process, the installment is meant to eventually provide all Charlemont residents with affordable, reliable broadband. Charlemont Connect and the town Broadband Committee marked the occasion earlier this month with a celebration at the Charlemont Fairgrounds.

“We had a small but enthusiastic crowd,” said Bob Handsaker, chair of the Broadband Committee. “We gave people an update on construction and answered questions.”

The celebration included a ribbon-cutting, cake and lemonade.

“We’ve been working on this for a number of years, and the celebration was because we’re lighting up one of the sectors,” Handsaker explained. While not every sector is finished at this time, Handsaker said the final cost will come in at around $3.5 million, paid in part by the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and in part by the town itself.

There will be five sectors total in Charlemont that will go live throughout the fall and winter. The first segment of the fiber-optic network serves the west end of the village and South River Road.

After testing, general installation began the week of Aug. 2. Installation includes necessary wiring, a router and tests to verify performance.

“People who have gotten service seem to be really happy with it,” Handsaker noted. He thinks customer satisfaction is in large part due to the speed of the new network, which comes in at 1,000 megabits per second, or 1 gigabit symmetrical upload and download. Handsaker said the only options that have been available to residents previously were somewhat slow and unreliable in comparison.

Without the fiber-optic network, about 75 to 80 percent of town residents can receive access to Verizon DSL, according to Handsaker. Satellite internet is also an option, but has performance issues and data caps. That lack of options, he said, is what makes it so important for this new network to reach every home and business in town.

“To me, the network is really about economic development and supporting businesses, and remote work, and home schooling and telemedicine,” Handsaker said. “The pandemic has brought into stark relief the importance of high-speed, quality internet service.”

The availability of internet can be an important “enabling factor” for families and younger people to move to Western Massachusetts, Handsaker added.

Once the fiber-optic network in a sector of town goes live, if residents have already signed up for service through Whip City Fiber, they’ll receive a phone call to schedule an installation time and appointment. Standard installation is free if they sign up for one year of service.

Residential and business service costs $79.99 per month on Charlemont’s own network, including both equipment and WiFi. Phone service costs $19.99 per month. For commercial and business figures, contact Whip City Fiber at 413-485-1251.

A “useful” program Handsaker mentioned is the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

“This program gives people who qualify $50 a month off their internet bill. You can qualify based on income, eligibility for certain other federal programs or income lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he explained.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit program was originally funded using COVID-19 relief funding, though Handsaker said many are pushing to make it a permanent program.

Every family with a Hawlemont Regional School student also automatically qualifies for $50 off, Handsaker said, due to a qualifier being receiving free or reduced school lunch. Since every student at Hawlemont qualifies, every family is eligible for the monthly discount.

Making high-speed internet accessible has been a group effort, Handsaker said.

“To a lot of people, it was very important that it would reach everybody and wouldn’t leave anybody behind like the other options,” Handsaker said.

More than 400 people have signed up for service across town, which he said is an important number because it proves that people really want service and will continue to sign up.

“The town has been working on getting a broadband solution for probably at least 10 years, as have many towns in Western Massachusetts,” Handsaker said.

“It’s great to see it finally get turned on,” he continued. “This has been a culmination of years of work, planning and advocacy at this point.”

To find updates and news about Charlemont’s broadband journey, visit


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