WiredWest has new broadband plan

Recorder Staff
Thursday, January 26, 2017

WiredWest, the municipal cooperative created to bring high-speed broadband to unserved hilltowns, is now getting ready to offer regional operation services for its 27 member towns after their fiber optic networks are built — at a reasonable price for internet users.

The collaborative will present a new plan for providing internet services, network operations, billing, customer service and maintenance to town leaders at a meeting and workshop this Saturday, Jan. 28, at 9:30 a.m. The meeting is open to the public, and it will be held at the JFK Middle School, 100 Bridge St., in Northampton.

According to WiredWest spokesman Tim Newman, two qualified internet service providers who meet WiredWest’s pricing targets, are being considered for WiredWest’s regional operations. “We are still reviewing these companies,” he said. “We’re not rushing that decision; we’re taking time to think through, for the best fit.”

The new pricing plan “will be both attractive to consumers and competitive with what they have today,” says a news release. According to Newman, WiredWest has been working for several months to change course from its original mission — to build and cooperatively own a regional fiber optic network — to instead run those services and provide a greater economy of scale for its small towns.

While state policy from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) says each town must own its individual network, many towns want their networks to be operated regionally — for cost efficiencies, affordable service rates for town subscribers, and for long-term sustainability. Many hilltowns cannot or do not want to run their own broadband networks because of the cost or lack of communications technology expertise. The WiredWest regional plan would allow essential services to be provided by a qualified business contracted to provide services “under a WiredWest umbrella,” according to the news release. Also, WiredWest will be responsible for its member towns’ “Municipal Light Plant” or MLP responsibilities — including pole licensing, rental and insurance.

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute is currently working with towns on the infrastructure build-out and is vetting companies that have submitted proposals for last-mile grant money for broadband buildout in some of the unserved towns.

Since towns are responsible for debt service on loans for the fiber optic infrastructure, and for required “depreciation reserves,” which are set aside for repairs or service expansion, a workshop on Saturday will give town officials a chance to calculate their town’s subscriber rates. Newman said some towns may want these “MLP costs” to be paid for with taxes, some will want those charges added to broadband-user fees, and other towns will want some combination of both.

Franklin County’s WiredWest member towns are Ashfield, Buckland, Charlemont, Heath, Leyden, New Salem, Rowe, Shutesbury, and Wendell.

For more information, go to: wiredwest.net/