New Salem installs broadband “hut,” looks to July finish date

  • New Salem has had its electronics hut installed for the incoming broadband network, a major step toward getting residents high-speed internet. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/SUE CLOUTIER  

  • New Salem has had its electronics hut installed for the incoming broadband network, a major step toward getting residents high-speed Internet. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/SUE CLOUTIER

Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2019 4:34:33 PM

NEW SALEM — There used to be a page on the town website called “Broadband Stories,” where residents told of struggles selling homes or running businesses due to their lack of high-speed Internet. That page is now gone, and, by this coming fall, those struggles will be, too. 

New Salem has installed its broadband electronics “hut” by the Town Hall. The 9-by-16-foot, 40,000-pound cement structure from United Concrete will be the hub from which electricity flows, providing residents high-speed internet. It is equipped with a 500-gallon propane tank and a backup generator.

According to New Salem Broadband Committee member Sue Dunbar, the installation of the hut was a significant step in getting the fiber-optic broadband network live, which is expected to happen in July. 

“It’s a huge, big brick visual reminder to the town residents, who have been waiting for so long, that this is a reality,” Dunbar said. 

As one of the last 44 Massachusetts municipalities without high-speed Internet, New Salem has been working toward broadband under the state’s Last Mile program since 2015. 

Even months away from completion, it remains unclear exactly how much the total project will cost. Westfield Gas & Electric, which is designing and building the network, originally estimated the project’s cost at $1,967,666, just under the Massachusetts Broadband Institute’s estimate from 2015, the year residents approved the project at their annual Town Meeting.

That number is in addition to the roughly $1 million cost of “make-ready” work, which is currently taking place and should finish this spring, according to Dunbar. Make-ready work involves National Grid modifying existing utility poles to support the physical structure of the network. Crews have been in town for several months relocating lines on poles, trimming trees around the poles and replacing some poles. 

According to Broadband Committee Co-chairwoman MaryEllen Kennedy, original estimates of the cost for make-ready work were around $390,000, far less than what’s now expected. As the project moves along, the pricing should become clearer, Kennedy said. 

The make-ready work also entails adding additional poles to string the fiber-optic network and deliver high-speed Internet to the further reaches of town. According to Dunbar, negotiations have been successful with residents who initially opposed putting utility poles by their properties. 

“I have no clear picture (of the final cost),” Dunbar said. “Part of it’s going to reflect on people who have longer driveways.”

For residents, the sight of the hut and make-ready work happening should be a exciting, Dunbar said.  

“It’s already happened on portions of Elm Street, and make-ready is slowly spreading through the town,” said Dunbar, adding that the fact the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation owns large portions of the town has added work to the process, and permission had to be obtained for much of the utility pole installation. 

The New Salem network is being constructed alongside that of neighboring towns, Wendell and Shutesbury, Dunbar said, and collaboration between the three has helped things move smoothly. 

“Shutesbury is slightly ahead of us, and Wendell is slightly behind us by eight or nine months,” Dunbar said. “We should be fully lit by the middle of July.” 

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com 




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