Four-town broadband buildout nearing complete

Staff Writer
Published: 9/9/2020 1:35:58 PM
Modified: 9/9/2020 1:35:48 PM

The Florida, Hawley, Monroe and Savoy (FHMS) broadband buildout has continued throughout the pandemic, and officials expect to have all the infrastructure in place by the end of the year, with customer connections being established next spring.

The first phase of the four-town broadband network was completed in the spring of 2020, with almost 80 homes in parts of Savoy, Hawley and Florida already connected.

According to FHMS Broadband Network Committee Chair Kirby “Lark” Thwing, who resides in Hawley, the last two phases of the plan are still in progress, and will see roughly 16 access points installed around the four towns, some of which are already in the ground. Thwing estimated that five more access points will be in place before the end of October.

“We anticipate having all of the infrastructure for the project in place by the end of December,” Thwing said.

While the infrastructure will be in place, he said a majority of customers will not be connected by this time, and customers can expect to be connected throughout the spring of 2021, with an average of five or six connections per week. Thwing estimated that 120 customers are connected at this time, and that another 150 will be connected by the end of the year.

“That would be a total of 250 out of close to 800 to 1,000 potential connections,” Thwing said.

The four towns teamed up with OTELCO and WiValley to develop faster, more reliable internet service. Once construction is complete, the OTELCO FHMS webpage will be the “go-to” spot for product information.

According to Thwing, the total cost for the four-town broadband network, which uses Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) funding, is estimated to be roughly $2.4 million. He said $800,000 has been spent so far, with roughly $1.6 million remaining to be paid as the wireless network continues to be completed.

Thwing said a payment to WiValley is expected to go through within the week. The first phase cost roughly $350,000. He also said the towns have paid $100,000 toward the second phase, and the rest of Phase 2’s payment is waiting for signatures from the four town Selectboards before being sent. Once this bill is paid, Thwing said, “WiValley will be relatively flush with cash” to continue making progress on the broadband network buildout.

Thwing also noted during a recent public information session the number of “complications” the small team of WiValley installation workers have encountered since June. Thwing said the chief home installer fell off a ladder while working. He broke his wrist, sprained his other wrist and broke multiple ribs.

“So he’s been slow to get back in the swing of things,” Thwing said.

Beyond that, he said some of the installation workers had lost loved ones. One lost their mother to COVID-19, and they needed to take time off to spend time with and help their families.

Weekly conference calls are being held between Thwing, WiValley, MBI and the engineering company. The monthly FHMS meeting agenda and conference link can be found on the Hawley town website’s broadband page.

According to OTELCO’s website, costs for service vary depending on what package residents sign up for. For stand-alone internet, residents may pay roughly $44.95 per month for 12 megabits per second download and 2 megabits per second upload speeds. Residents may also choose between $54.95 for a 25 megabits per second download and 3 megabits per second upload speeds, or $79.95 for 50 megabits per second download and 10 megabits per second upload speeds. Residents may choose to add a phone to the bundle for an additional $25 a month.

Residents who are interested in the FHMS broadband service may call 833-OTELCO-1 (683-8261) or visit bit.ly/3jChG1Q. Residents will be contacted when service is available at their location.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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