New Salem broadband could be ready by summer 2019

Town has been working on getting fiber-optic internet under the state’s Last Mile program since 2015

Recorder Staff
Published: 7/9/2018 6:06:35 PM

NEW SALEM — “THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!”

That’s what the New Salem Broadband Committee wrote in its update posted to the town’s website Thursday.

As one of the last Massachusetts municipalities without a high-speed internet network, New Salem has been working on getting fiber-optic broadband under the state’s Last Mile program since 2015.

“We know that the biggest single question on everyone’s mind is when the network will be completed,” the statement reads. “According to our current schedule, the network should be ready to begin customer connections as early as Summer 2019.”

According to Broadband Committee Co-Chairwoman MaryEllen Kennedy, crews from National Grid and Verizon have been in town estimating the costs of doing “make-ready” work on utility poles. The poles, owned by National Grid and Verizon, need to be altered in order to affix wiring for the network.

Kennedy said the town should know the cost of the “make-ready” work, as well as have completed design documents for the network “imminently,” which will give the town a better idea of how much the project will cost.

The Broadband Committee also provided a list of expectations for residents in the coming months, along with make-ready work: the erection of town-owned utility poles, tree removal and the delivery of the “New Salem Hut” — the nexus from which the fiber optic cables will go to houses, to be located off Wendell Road.

Westfield Gas & Electric — which is designing and building the network — previously estimated the project’s cost at $1,967,666, slightly below the estimate the Massachusetts Broadband Institute provided the town in 2015, when residents approved the project at their Annual Town Meeting.

“Other towns who are building have found make-ready costs were underestimated and the commonwealth has agreed to help with some additional funding,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy, as the Massachusetts Broadband Institute’s designated point of contact for New Salem, has consistently stressed the importance of bringing high-speed internet to New Salem.

Until a recent overhaul, the town’s website included a collection of testimonies called “Broadband Stories,” in which residents detailed the need for — and their struggles without — high-speed internet.

According to Kennedy, residents have been unable to sell their homes and people who run businesses from online have difficulties due to the lack of high-speed internet — many New Salem residents use satellite internet services, which can be expensive and unreliable during storms.

The New Salem project is part of the state’s Last Mile program, administered by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, which targets the last 44 communities in Massachusetts without high-speed internet and provides legal frameworks and grants to ensure each community gets broadband.

Reach David McLellan at: dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.


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