Four-town broadband in the works

Staff Writer
Published: 7/30/2018 5:39:34 PM

HAWLEY — Broadband officials from Hawley, Florida, Savoy and the state have reviewed the formal proposal from WiValley and got down to details about how the four-phase wireless broadband build-out is to proceed.

Deputy Secretary Carolyn Kirk of the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development explained that the state wanted to handle the four-town Wi-Fi network as though it were a single entity. She suggested the four towns (including Monroe) pick a “lead town” that the owner’s project manager would deal with as the build-out progresses. She said the four towns’ broadband allocations would be considered as one fund for the $2 million project.

Instead of a lead town, Hawley Broadband Committee member Rick Keen suggested forming a board, with one representative from each town, to be the liaison and to keep each town’s selectboard informed of progress. The Monroe broadband representative was not present, but pending Monroe’s approval, the four-member broadband board will represent the towns’ liaison with the owner’s project manager and with the state. Kirby “Lark” Thwing of Hawley was nominated to chair that group.

The formal proposal by WiValley President Brian Floucher offers wireless broadband service to at least 96 percent of the towns. To eliminate a requirement for the towns to borrow money to pay upfront for costs, WiValley has partnered with Otelco to construct the network in a multi-phased process. The state will reimburse, using the towns’ combined broadband state allocations, after each phase is completed and tested to meet performance standards. Otelco will operate the Internet Service Provider across this network, offering phone and internet service to customers throughout these towns. Otelco is currently the provider for the Leverett network.

When the network is built, subscribers’ monthly costs will range from $44.95 for the slowest internet speeds to $299.95 for the highest speed, business class service, of 100/100 megabits per second (Mbps). For the standard speed of 25/3 Mbps, the fee is $54.95. The cost for unlimited digital phone service will be $24.99.

The next step is for the four towns’ selectboards to approve an intra-municipal agreement with WiValley and with state officials. Kirk said Phase 1 will cost $450,000 — plus $116,000 for the project manager and legal fees. She said the towns must agree to aggregate the combined $2.1 million grant money for the complete four-phase project. She said the towns should develop a network services agreement to be signed by the towns and WiValley.

Kirk recommended that town selectboards approve an Action Plan/agreement prepared by WiValley by Aug. 10 if they want work to start this season. The Action Plan must also be approved by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

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