Broadband company starts fiber build in downtown Great Barrington

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GREAT BARRINGTON — A new option for state-of-the-art broadband connectivity is coming to the downtown.

Monterey-based Fiber Connect of the Berkshires has begun work on a fiber-optic system that will give businesses and residents high and reliable internet speeds of 1 gigabit, which many say they need to compete in the modern economy.

Adam Chait, CEO of Fiber Connect, already has installed the system's core in the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, and is working on landlord approval to string fiber cables on rooftops, and town approvals to run the cables under Main and Railroad streets. The company also will bring a fiber connection to Town Hall across the street, Chait said.

The work should begin in January.

Great Barrington is one of several towns that, while served with internet by telecom giants, has internet speeds that are slower than what business owners, especially local software engineers, say is needed to keep up with the pace of the 21st century and to fuel economic development in the area.

Many merchants and other companies, whose work depends on quick internet processing, say their current speeds just aren't enough, and that only a full fiber-optic system will deliver. They also say that without fiber optics, they are unable to take advantage of new security features for credit cards and alarm systems.

Others say the customer experience takes a hit when speeds limp along.

Robin Helfand, owner of Robin's Candy Shop on Main Street, said she's looking forward to the coming changes.

"[It] will allow us to replace somewhat outdated and less-reliable technology," Helfand said.

Her landlord, Richard Stanley, called the plan "fantastic."

"Just for the philosophical reason that we've got to be wired if were going to be anyplace where anybody is going to consider having a business of any kind," he said.

He's not worried about the cable connections to his building.

"It doesn't really matter which way it goes, as long as it happens," he said.

Nudging it along

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The effort has been a few years in the making, as a small committee and the company went around town to gauge support for the undertaking.

"The town has had no formal role," said Ed Abrahams, who is vice chairman of the Select Board and helped "nudge along" the effort. He said that local fiber advocate Tim Newman, a filmmaker, as well as Chait, have been key in getting this rolling.

"This is a lovely example of the town making something happen at no cost to taxpayers that will help with economic development in a really big way," Abrahams said.

Chait said he is expecting a momentum for subscriptions to develop.

"It's a, 'If you build it, then they will come,' kind of attitude," he said.

Chait, who has built systems in Egremont and Monterey, is footing the bill for the core work, but he declined to say how much.

"It's an investment," he said. "But that's the business we're in. We've invested a lot of money in Egremont and Monterey, and now in downtown Great Barrington with the expectation that it will all be fruitful."

Competition?

The cost of service will be $99 for residential service and $149 for businesses, with installation fees at $199 to $299, Chait said.

He is competing mostly with Charter Communications, whose Spectrum cable and internet service is a hybrid of coaxial and fiber technology that Chait says isn't as robust.

On its higher-price end, Charter also provides a 1-gigabit service for $105 to $250.

Charter also offers a special "direct fiber" connection for businesses that want a higher bandwidth, according to spokesman Andrew Russell. Pricing depends on a number of factors and would require a construction survey, he added.

None of this ruffles Chait, who has the backing of a venture capitalist.

"If I had it my way, I would keep building until I don't have any more land to build on," he said. "As long as the market keeps accepting us, we'll keep building."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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