WiValley makes wireless pitch to hilltowns

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/1/2018 8:32:41 PM

CHARLEMONT — For hilltowns that are too small and too steep for a cost-effective town-owned fiber optic network, WiValley of Keene, N.H., laid out plans for a fixed wireless, regional broadband network that would bring internet to Hawley, Monroe, Florida and Savoy subscribers for $60 to $70 per month.

At least 70 people gathered in the Hawlemont Regional School cafeteria to hear the proposal from WiValley President Brian Foucher and Fred Goldstein a partner of the Interisle Consulting Group and telecommunications expert.

The four towns combined have a population of about 1,800 and cover almost 170 miles of roadway. Kirby “Lark” Thwing of Hawley’s Communications Committee remarked that the only proposal Hawley (population 330) received for a fiber optic network would have connected about 60 percent of the town’s households at a subscriber fee of $105 per month.

The proposal by WiValley is to be paid for entirely by the four towns’ broadband grants and not with additional town taxation or loans. There are no startup/installation fees for subscribers, and WiValley will offer speeds of at least 25/5 megabits per second (Mbps) to about 75 percent of homes.

In harder-to-reach places, the download/upload speeds could be 12/2 Mbps, which is equivalent to the fastest DSL speeds available, Foucher said. Those with the slower internet speeds will pay $59.95 per month; those with 25/5 Mbps will pay $69.95 per month and those who want 50/10 Mbps, if available, would pay $79.95 monthly. Unlimited phone service is available for $24.99.

If WiValley’s proposal is approved for funding by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, installation could begin this summer, Foucher said.

“Once approved, we can start this within weeks. We’re hoping for approval by June, to start this summer,” he said. “Our goal is to connect as many houses as possible in the summer, when the trees are out (in full foliage). We hope to do 10 installations a day, throughout the four-town network.”

Foucher said WiValley may buy and install needed utility poles and towers, which will be turned over to the towns. He said the network will be 100 percent publicly funded and that the infrastructure will be under public control. He said WiValley is committed to servicing and maintaining the network for 20 years; but the towns will have an option to buy the network after three years. The plan is for 96 percent coverage.

Charlemont Broadband Committee member Trevor Mackie voiced concerns that some Charlemont residents might choose Hawley’s wireless network over the fiber optic network that Charlemont is planning to build, undercutting the economic viability of Charlemont’s town-owned broadband.

“We want to help you,” said Goldstein. “Fiber works best in flat, densely populated areas, like Route 2,” he said. “But the last 20 percent (of the build-out) often takes 80 percent of the money. We’ve got some irons in the fire that may help you,” he said.


Mostly everyone at Thursday’s meeting was in favor of the plan, but there were a few residents present with misgivings. A man from Monroe expressed concerns that the internet is changing society. “My neighbors are buying dog food from Amazon,” he remarked. “What’s going to happen to your hardware store three years from now?”

He was also concerned that, once built, the broadband network would get sold to another conglomerate, the way the wind turbines and dams have been sold, without town input.

Thwing said he has checked WiValley’s references: “They said nothing but good things,” he remarked. “They said (WiValley) took on projects when nobody else would, because of their small size.”

A few people expressed health concerns regarding wireless internet, radiation and its effects on those with electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Foucher said the latest wireless networks have less impact than using a cell phone does; however, those with sensitivities can lessen any impact by shutting off internet devices when they are not in use.

Thwing pointed out that downtown Greenfield has Wi-Fi and that people with hypersensitivity are less likely to experience it in Hawley, where homes are spread far apart.


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