WiredWest unveils plans for regional broadband

Recorder Staff
Monday, January 30, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — WiredWest wants to run and maintain future broadband networks for its member towns with a broadband service residential “economy” rate starting at $59 per month, not including town fees to help pay for broadband loans, debt service or depreciation.

At least 100 people, including 72 towns officials, attended a WiredWest forum Saturday at the JFK Middle School in Northampton to hear the broadband collaborative’s latest plan to run and manage member towns’ broadband networks once the infrastructure has been built with town money and technology grants through the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI).

The WiredWest cooperative was started in 2009 by western Massachusetts towns to build, own and operate “last mile” fiber optic broadband here. But in 2015, MBI determined that the cooperative could not own the infrastructure of its member towns, so WiredWest is instead proposing regional management for its small towns. This will save them money and the need to hire people for billing, sales, customer service, paying annual utility pole rental fees, technology support or infrastructure repair.

WiredWest’s plan is to handle Municipal Lighting Plant (MLP) responsibilities for member towns, including pole licensing, rental and insurance, and to contract with an internet service provider for essential services, including internet, network operations, billing, customer service, and maintenance.

WiredWest is negotiating with two internet service companies that met subscriber pricing and operational needs: Westfield Gas & Electric/Whip City Fiber of Westfield and OTT Communications, a division of Otelco Inc.

Westfield Gas & Electric has had MLP status for more than a century and its Whip City offshoot provides broadband to Westfield. This company is also among the six that responded to proposal requests by MBI. OTT provides services to communities in Maine, western Mass., Vermont and West Virginia.

WiredWest’s $59 “economy plan” will offer download speeds of 25 Mbps (megabits per second); the standard plan, of 1 gigabit per second, is $75. For full phone service (unlimited calling, voice mail, call waiting) the additional cost is $19 per month. There would be a one-time activation fee of $99.

However, some towns may need to add a town fee to the monthly subscriber rate, to help cover the town’s costs for the fiber optic network, for debt service or a required depreciation reserve. The addition of any town fee would be up to the town to determine. Another cost issue not related to the proposed monthly service fees is how the installation costs for fiber-to-the-home will be paid for.

WiredWest has offered follow-up consultations with town officials that want to take a deeper look into details of the proposal.