Charlemont hears broadband options

Recorder Staff
Published: 11/16/2016 9:24:37 PM

CHARLEMONT — Charlemont is trying to get in the growing line of towns pushing closer to broadband internet.

A year ago, when the WiredWest collaborative wanted to build a regional broadband system for western Massachusetts’ unserved towns, 261 households in this town of roughly 1,200 people signed up for high-speed internet, plunking down a $49 deposit for a future month’s service.

Although WiredWest won’t now be building that fiber network, the 41.5 percent pre-subscription response was a good indication that people want to be wired. And now the question is: How much will it cost?

“That $49 (rate) with WiredWest? It looks like that ship has sailed,” said Bob Handsaker of the Charlemont Broadband Committee. At a broadband presentation Tuesday night, Handsaker laid out the town’s options and distributed a survey that asked how much residents pay now for their phone, television and internet service. The last question asks if residents would be willing to pay less, the same or more than what they currently pay for such services, if there was broadband.

Handsaker advised residents to leave their refundable deposits with WiredWest, in case it becomes a non-profit regional provider for broadband services and operations.

He told them Charlemont would like to “get in line” with about a dozen other towns that are currently preparing for pole surveys, to make sure they have enough adequate utility poles to accommodate broadband fiber. Handsaker said Charlemont hopes to follow Ashfield and Rowe, which are now in the middle of pole surveys. However, it isn’t clear yet if Charlemont will have other options, including private-sector providers. He said the town could leverage the most state funding if it allows the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to provide the design, engineering and construction services. If Charlemont were to build its own municipal network without MBI assistance, the town would not get full funding.

Most of the townspeople present agreed with Handsaker that opting for wireless broadband wouldn’t be as reliable as fiber — although it would cost less to build. Besides having broadband for home use, he said, “You want to do it for economic development of the town.” For a business that needs high-speed broadband for teleconferencing and high-volume use, “Wireless might not be enough,” he said.

Cost estimates for a town-owned network, based on Leverett’s broadband costs, vary depending on how many households take it. The estimates also assume residents will cover costs for an electrician to do their interior home wiring. If only 30 percent of the town takes the internet service, they would pay about $95 per month for internet, or $110 per month for internet and telephone. If 42 percent take broadband services, the monthly rate would remain the same. If 75 percent sign up, the monthly rate would go down to $75 ($90 with phone included).

Part of the construction costs will also be picked up through a property tax increase, which shrinks as more people sign up.

Besides taking a survey to determine how many people are likely to take broadband services, the Board of Selectmen is recommending the town start pole surveys. Also, the Broadband Committee plans to research other possible solutions for the town.


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