Coming soon: Fiber-optic debut in Mount Washington
MOUNT WASHINGTON — More than 14 months ago, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute gave this town $230,000, making it only the second "fiber to the home" broadband project to win state backing.
Now, Berkshire County's smallest community is a month from lighting up its new fiber-optic network and coming off the rolls of "unserved" towns.
Fiber-optic cable now laces along utility poles. Special "ONT" boxes are being positioned inside homes to translate pulses of light into electric signals.
Gail Garrett, Mount Washington's town clerk and a member of its Select Board, said 98 connections are planned, a number that keeps climbing as the start date nears. The town has 146 premises that are candidates for broadband connections, including the highway department. The Town Hall already has service as an anchor institution through the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative's "middle mile" network.
"Everybody's had it with their current connections," Garrett said.
That frustration was expressed earlier when 60 percent of residents opted in, committing themselves to three years of data and telephone service through the network and plunking down $300 deposits.
The state followed up on its initial investment with another grant this spring of $222,000, reducing the eventual cost to local taxpayers.
Earlier, residents agreed to take $250,000 from a stabilization fund and to borrow $450,000.
Jim Lovejoy, a Select Board member, told The Eagle earlier that the second grant could allow the town to reduce its borrowing costs.
"It's hard to argue with the support that we've received from the administration," he said.
Mount Washington picked NextGen Telecom Services Group to build its network in January 2016, just after the MBI ended a planned association with the WiredWest cooperative to operate a large regional network. Gov. Charlie Baker then ordered a pause in the MBI's work, a period that lifted in April 2016 with the rollout of a new approach to "last mile" broadband connections.
A little more than a year later, the town is poised to provide customers with download speeds of 500 megabits per second, 20 times the federal definition of broadband connection speeds. The project was slowed by delays in "make ready" work on utility poles.
By Oct. 16, all equipment is to be installed in a refurbished space in the back of town hall. The work was taken over by White Mountain Cable Construction, which will maintain the network for one year. After that, Garrett said the town will seek a new company to make repairs.
"We're hoping to go live Oct. 19 or 20," Garrett said.
Though the service will cost $119.95 a month, plus tax, Garrett said that by eliminating regular phone service, she believes the package is competitive for subscribers.
The speeds will exceed those now available in Mount Washington, Garrett said, including satellite internet and a wireless service.
Crocker Communications will serve as the network operator and internet service provider, or ISP. Garrett said the company is in the process of transferring Verizon landline phone numbers over to eventual voice-over-internet service.
Garrett notes that one side benefit of the network is a lift in real estate transactions. Houses that hit the market have been selling, she said.
"We've had great interest because of broadband," Garrett said.
Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.
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