STATUS CHECK: Here’s where Berkshire County’s 19 ‘unserved’ internet towns stand



STATUS: The town sent out a request for proposals (RFP) on Nov. 7, 2016, for a 100 percent fiber-to-the-premise town-owned system to be completed by a private firm chosen by the town’s Municipal Light Plant (MLP) board. The town received six responses and is in the final stage of the reviewing process. The town hopes to make a decision by the end of February. The target date for the network to be operational is the first quarter of 2018. The town has completed the readiness process.

CURRENT INTERNET OPTIONS: Fixed wireless (WiSpring), satellite, dial-up



MUNICIPAL LIGHT PLANT BOARD MEMBERS: Tom Doyle, Bruce Forster, James Hall, Robert Lichter, Joseph Nicolosi

BORROWING APPROVED, IF ANY: $1.6 million (August 2015)

QUOTE: “We do have youngsters in the school system and increasingly they need to use the internet for projects, for homework. It’s an underlying assumption that one has internet capability that’s adequate for these purposes,” said Robert Lichter, chairman of the board of the MLP.

CLOSER LOOK: Alford considered wireless and hybrid networks and spoke informally with nearby small towns before deciding to pursue a municipally owned fiber network managed by the town’s MLP, Lichter said.
“I feel supremely confident that we did our homework on this,” he said. “Fiber optic ... is really the only way to go.”
The town’s RFP calls for the private provider to construct and design the network. Six providers responded: Atlantic Engineering Group of Braselton, Ga.; Comm-Tract Corporation of Boxborough, Mass.; Henkel & McCoy of Blue Hill, Pa.; Sertex Broadband Solutions of Plainfield, Conn.; WaveGuide of Nashua, N.H.; and White Mountain Cable Construction of Epsom, N.H.
Make-ready work on the poles is underway, he said. Construction would start after make-ready work ends and the design process is completed. MBI will allocate $288,775 in grant funding to Alford in an award announced in December 2016.
Alford has achieved several important milestones for its broadband plan, including voter approval of municipal financing and endorsement of the Massachusetts Division of Local Services for its municipal financing plan, according to MBI.
The town hopes construction will take no longer than six months, Lichter said. Total project costs should be within the $1.6 million borrowing amount authorized at a special town meeting in August 2015.


STATUS: The town is working to build a 100 percent fiber-to-the-premise network and is currently in the readiness process. The town has also expressed interest in a regional network and attended WiredWest’s presentation in Northampton on Jan. 28. Crocker Communications, Fiber Connect and Mid-Hudson Data also expressed interest in providing broadband to Becket in their responses to MBI’s Nov. 18, 2016, request for proposals seeking private providers to build and own a network in one or more unserved towns.



BROADBAND COMMITTEE MEMBERS: Town Administrator Ed Gibson is Becket’s contact for the project. An ad hoc group consisting of Jeanne Pryor (Board of Selectmen), Dan Parnell (Finance Committee), Jeremy Dunn and Robert Gross (WiredWest delegates) and John Les (a network administrator) have been assisting with the effort.

QUOTE: “Each town really should make their own decisions,” said Jeremy Dunn, town WiredWest delegate.

CLOSER LOOK: To avoid slowing the broadband process down, Becket is moving forward with an independent network even though the town prefers a regional solution, Dunn said.

The town is strongly interested in joining a cooperative of towns to reduce operating costs for the network. The town intends to pull extra strands of fiber during the initial build to cover new growth in future years. The town would absorb the cost of about 98 percent of home connections, barring homes with unusually expensive connections (such as very long driveways), in which the homeowner would be expected to contribute to the cost, he said.

Dunn said there’s also strong interest in the town for the proposal put forward by WiredWest on Jan. 28.


STATUS: The town is considering a 100 percent fiber-to-the-home municipal network with the help of MBI, among other options, including working with a private company that would own the network. The town has completed the readiness process. Pole survey work was completed in mid-December by Osmose Utility Services.

CURRENT INTERNET OPTIONS: DSL, satellite, cell phone mobile access point



Technology committee members: Laura Allen, Charles Flynn, Jeffrey Lazarus, Mark Roggen, Jonathan Taylor, John Wells, Marj Wexler

BORROWING APPROVED, IF ANY: up to $2.94 million (May 2015)

QUOTE: “I think the internet has pretty much caught on. It’s no longer so much of a luxury as it is a utility,” said Jeffrey Lazarus, a member of the technology committee.

closer look: Egremont is further ahead in the broadband process than some other towns in Berkshire County — pole survey work and the readiness assessment process have already been completed.

The town is prioritizing cost-effectiveness, townwide access and the shortest possible implementation timeline in seeking broadband solutions, according to the town’s January 2017 newsletter.

The town has been involved in the effort to bring broadband to unserved Berkshire County towns since about 2008 and participated in WiredWest, Lazarus said. By the time MBI and WiredWest disputed the accuracy of WiredWest’s financial analysis, the town saw that there were other options available than just regionalization, he said.

The town Select Board also decided not to support the WiredWest regional broadband solution at a Jan. 9 meeting.

“[Ours is] a very viable path forward,” Lazarus said. “There are other options that do come up from time to time, and it’s possible that the town may decide if something else comes along [that’s] better or could be done faster, we would consider it.”


STATUS: The town is not currently pursuing a broadband option and has not entered the readiness evaluation process.

CURRENT INTERNET OPTIONS: Satellite, DSL, cell phone mobile access point



QUOTE: “It’s a bummer to go out and have to hit your dish to get the snow and ice off of it so you can keep working,” said Christine Dobbert, town administrator.

CLOSER LOOK: MBI’s initial Last Mile funding model — in which towns would pay about two-thirds of their construction costs for networks that could cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars — isn’t feasible for a small town like Florida, Dobbert said.

Taxes would go up significantly for Florida’s approximately 700 residents if the town authorized borrowing to build such a network, she said. Ever since Axia NGNetworks USA decided not to pursue wiring the town earlier this fall, the town has stopped seeking broadband, but hasn’t given up on the possibility entirely, she said.

“It just becomes a way of life, and some people like it that way that they just don’t have those interruptions,” she said.


STATUS: The town has not entered the readiness evaluation process.



CLOSER LOOK: Charter Communications, Crocker Communications and Mid-Hudson Data proposed to provide broadband to Hancock in their responses to MBI’s Nov. 18, 2016, RFP. There is also interest in having FairPoint Communications, a company with operations in 17 states including Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, build out a network in the town.


STATUS: Charter Communications is currently implementing a broadband network in Hinsdale, Lanesborough and West Stockbridge. The buildout should be completed by the end of 2017.

CONSTRUCTION ALLOCATION: $1.6 million (an MBI grant to Charter Communications, shared with Lanesborough and West Stockbridge)


QUOTE: “So I guess you could say the solution just sort of happily fell in our lap,” said Ryan Aylesworth, town administrator.

CLOSER LOOK: While unserved Berkshire County towns consider public-private partnerships, independent municipal networks, or forgetting broadband altogether, Hinsdale, along with Lanesborough and West Stockbridge, has a way to access broadband internet without debt, thanks to Charter Communications’ decision to expand its existing network in the three towns.

Charter strung new fiber internet cables in Hinsdale last summer.

Phone service became available in last October, and the company continues to expand access in the town, Aylesworth said.

Unlike many other towns in Berkshire County, Hinsdale had not voted on town borrowing for a network when Charter emerged as a solution.

Town leaders were trying to figure out a solution when Charter approached them, he said.


STATUS: Charter Communications is currently expanding to provide broadband internet access in Hinsdale, Lanesborough and West Stockbridge.

CONSTRUCTION ALLOCATION: $1.6 million (to Charter Communications, shared with Hinsdale and West Stockbridge)


What BORROWING APPROVED, IF ANY: About $2.5 million

QUOTE: “Charter has been seemingly keeping its word and being proactive. We’re very pleased,” said Paul Sieloff, town manager.

CLOSER LOOK: “We’re part of the three musketeers,” Sieloff said of Charter Communications’ decision to expand its existing network to provide broadband in Hinsdale, Lanesborough and West Stockbridge.

Current Charter customers had been “pretty much” guaranteed that they will be hooked up to the network by the end of last year, and others without current subscriptions or in neighborhoods with underground conduits are scheduled to be hooked up later this year, he said.

“When I first came here four years ago, I really thought people were joking when they said they didn’t have internet in the town,” said Sieloff, who lives outside of Albany, N.Y.


STATUS: The town’s goal is to have a fiber-to-the-home network and build out as much of the town as possible, at a minimum of 96 percent access. The town is waiting to review responses from three RFPs — one individual RFP and a four-town RFP, both released in January, and the one released by MBI on Nov. 18, 2016 — before making a decision how to proceed. The town has completed the readiness process.




BROADBAND COMMITTEE MEMBERS: Steven Weisz, Bill Johnson (Finance Committee), Cliff Weiss

AMOUNT OF BORROWING APPROVED, IF ANY: $1.96 million (May 2015)

QUOTE: “We cannot wait. Especially if we want to flip the demographics of Berkshire County, if we want to bring in younger people and families and give people the ability to do business,” said Steven Weisz, selectman and chairman of Monterey’s broadband committee.

CLOSER LOOK: Monterey has cobbled together basic internet through DSL and satellite — for those who live outside of the town’s heavily forested areas, said Weisz.

Town leaders are exploring all options in an effort to secure reliable, affordable fiber-to-the-home service for the town.

To that end, the town participated in a four-town RFP with Sandisfield, New Marlborough and Tolland, as well as an individual town RFP, to help identify the best broadband solution in an effort that has been marked by many changes from MBI, he said.

Responses to the four-town RFP are due Feb. 23.

All Weisz knows for sure is that he isn’t giving up.

“Monterey considers broadband an essential service. The Select Board feels strongly whether you are rich ... you live in a mansion or a one-room house, you should have access to broadband,” he said.

Mount Washington

STATUS: The town is proceeding on schedule to build a fiber-to-the-home municipally owned network. Late in 2016, NextGen Telecom Services Group began to put underground wires in conduits for the network. The company will finish that work in the spring. National Grid and Verizon have given the town bills for expected make-ready work on poles. Verizon expects to finish that work in May.

CURRENT INTERNET OPTIONS: Satellite (Hughes Net or Exebe), fixed wireless (WiSpring)




Up to $450,000

QUOTE: “My only goal was to keep the budget down and not spend unnecessarily,” said Gail Garrett, selectwoman and town clerk.

CLOSER LOOK: Mount Washington is building a broadband network to call its own — and not a moment too soon.

“We have no bodies. I can’t emphasize that enough,” said Garrett. “Realtors are telling me that if they tell somebody they don’t have high-speed internet in a home, they’re not buying it.”

NextGen has up to three months to complete the system after National Grid and Verizon finish make-ready on the poles to accommodate the network.The town will manage the network through the Select Board. The town will utilize MBI construction grant funding and its own borrowing — up to $450,000 — to pay for the network, which will only extend toward those homes that have opted into the network, although the network could be expanded to accommodate new users in the future. Garrett anticipates the town will need to borrow only about $270,000.

Garrett set the monthly price for both internet and phone service — $119.95, based on the funds needed to maintain the system. Garrett said she hopes the network will be up and running in May.

“It was years and years of dial-up and this and that,” she said.

New Ashford

STATUS: The town has completed the readiness process but has not yet submitted pole survey paperwork to Eversource and Verizon. The town is exploring multiple options: MBI contracting out a provider for a town-owned network, securing a private provider to pay for and own the network, or taking part in a regional solution through WiredWest.

CURRENT INTERNET OPTIONS: DSL, satellite, cell phone mobile access point




What BORROWING APPROVED, IF ANY: $420,000 (approved May 2015)

QUOTE: “Right now, we’re looking at as, we want service, and we’re going to get it one way or another,” said Jason Jayko, chairman of the New Ashford Select Board.

CLOSER LOOK: New Ashford isn’t tying itself to one plan, but securing a private provider through the responses to MBI’s Nov. 18, 2016, RFP doesn’t look like a viable option, Jayko said. Only one of the companies that responded to MBI’s RFP — Crocker Communications — proposed to service New Ashford, and that proposal was lacking in several key areas, he said.

The expected buildout of 40 to 48 months is too long, and the network would only cover 70 percent of the town, he said.

“It sounded like [Crocker] expected a subscriber shortfall,” he said.

The town has had DSL since 2008 — an improvement over dial-up, which the town had back when Jayko moved to New Ashford in about 2002.

“We were hoping that somebody could have come in and [done] everything for us,” he said.

The town is also considering the WiredWest regional solution because no private providers have come forward to meet the town’s needs in an acceptable manner, he said.

New Marlborough

STATUS: The town is currently going through the readiness process. The town is now part of a four-town RFP with Monterey, Sandisfield and Tolland seeking a private provider to own and manage a fiber-to-the-home network. Responses to that RFP are due Feb. 23.




BROADBAND COMMITTEE MEMBERS: Richard Long (chairman), Thomas Stalker, Michele Shalaby, Steven Klein, Owen Wright

QUOTE: “We’re trying to create here a true, virtual high-speed highway. It’s a 21st century form of infrastructure that’s kind of basic to people’s needs today,” said Richard Long, chairman of the town’s broadband committee.

CLOSER LOOK: New Marlborough sent out its own RFP on Oct. 7, but that process has ended as no contract was reached with the one respondent, Frontier Communications, Long said. The RFP incentivized an outside partner to invest in building a network in the town in return for a subsidy the town would pay over time, Long said.

The four-town RFP also anticipates service delivery in return for a subsidy, Long said in an email.

The town met informally with contiguous towns regarding broadband for most of 2016 before deciding to join the RFP initially issued by Sandisfield, Tolland and Monterey.

Initially a part of WiredWest, the town has since decided to move away from that model. But various options remain on the table, Long said.

“We will play out this [private provider] path that we’ve chosen first. If it’s successful, great. If not, we will keep working,” he said.


STATUS: The town is pursuing its Last Mile project independently, overseeing the design, construction and operation of a fiber-to-the-home network.



Technology committee members: Bill Hiller, Frank Tolopko, George Mabee, Larry Gould, Laurie Flower, Lisamarie D’Orazio (secretary)

AMOUNT OF BORROWING APPROVED, IF ANY: $4 million (October 2015)

CLOSER LOOK: MBI will allocate $1,145,975 in grant funding to Otis in an award announced December 2016. The town’s initial construction allocation was $1,080,000.

Westfield Gas & Electric is currently partnering with the town for the design and engineering of a town network, according the company’s response to MBI’s Nov. 18, 2016, RFP.

Otis has achieved several key milestones in the building of its network, including voter approval of municipal financing and endorsement of the Massachusetts Division of Local Services for the town’s financing plan, according to MBI.

Initially a part of WiredWest, the Select Board voted to withdraw from the cooperative in August 2015.

The town cited a desire to own and control the network infrastructure within its borders, according to a case study of WiredWest produced by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University published in April 2016.


STATUS: The town is undergoing the readiness evaluation process.



AMOUNT OF BORROWING APPROVED, IF ANY: $1.17 million (June 2015)

CLOSER LOOK: Crocker Communications and Mid-Hudson Data proposed to provide broadband service to the town in their responses to MBI’s Nov. 18, 2016 RFP.

MBI had also successfully introduced Charter Communications to the town for an initial conversation as of Oct. 26, 2016, but the company did not propose to provide service to Peru in its response to MBI’s RFP.


STATUS: The town is part of a consortium of four towns — Sandisfield, Tolland, New Marlborough and Monterey — that are seeking a service provider to own and manage a fiber-to-the-home network. Responses to the towns’ joint RFP are due Feb. 23. The town has received a greenlight letter from its bond council and is undergoing the readiness process.

CURRENT INTERNET OPTIONS: DSL, satellite, cell phone mobile access point



BROADBAND COMMITTEE MEMBERS: Jeff Bye (chairman), Alice Boyd, Doug Rocco, George Wheeler

What BORROWING APPROVED, IF ANY: $2.4 million (May 2014)

QUOTE: “There are third world countries that have more fiber than we do and more internet access,” said Alice Boyd, chairwoman of Sandisfield’s Select Board. “We know that we need this. It will sink us if the towns around us have fiber-to-the-home and we don’t.”

CLOSER LOOK: Sandisfield moved away from WiredWest’s large regional model to working with Tolland, New Marlborough and Monterey — a consortium of four small towns.

“There was no [WiredWest] model for quite some time,” Boyd said. “[WiredWest’s] just-released model still requires us to build our own [network] and bond. We think really highly of everything Wired West has done, it’s just the solution isn’t really working for our town at this point.”

If the town had to borrow to build the network, taxes would increase to a level some residents couldn’t afford, she said.

The responses to MBI’s Nov. 18, 2016 RFP provided no options for Sandisfield, Boyd said.

The four towns ideally would have liked to create a “plug ‘n’ play” system, where all the towns in the consortium would be wired similarly, so one company could run all the towns in question, creating a truly regional broadband system, but that seems like less of an option right now, Boyd said.

“If we get a good bid in [for a four-town solution], then the four towns will be strung by one provider and that’s that … it’s not really ‘plug ‘n’ play’ so much because we won’t be owning our own networks,” she said. ‘It’s a great economies of scale going this route with the four towns.”

The town’s construction grant allocation would be used to offset the cost for the provider.

“Fiber to the home and broadband is our number-one economic development driver,” she said.


STATUS: The town is currently pursuing a town-wide wireless network to be built by a private provider with the support of MBI that the town would own. The town has submitted all documentation to MBI but has not begun the readiness evaluation process.




QUOTE: “We’re pursuing the wireless on the affordability end because it didn’t seem to be popular taking a debt for $1.1 million dollars,” said John Tynan, chairman of the select board. “For Savoy, wireless makes more sense.”

CLOSER LOOK: The citizens of Savoy have been involved in the broadband effort for about four or five years, and their frustration with the changing guidelines of MBI and WiredWest and the high costs of a broadband network led to the town pursuing a wireless option, Tynan said.

A wireless network looks like the best option for a simple, affordable solution. Town representatives previously met with six other towns who were all worried about the costs associated with broadband — Hawley, Middlefield, Royalston, Princeton, Wendell and New Marlborough — to research potential wireless options.

With the help of a $5,000 MBI grant, Interisle Consulting Group did a planning study for wireless in Savoy. The estimated cost for the project was only about $350,000, Tynan said. The town plans on using Last Mile grant funding for the network. A target date for service has not yet been set.

The town’s topography — largely a plateau with some hills — makes it uniquely suited to wireless in comparison to other heavily wooded, mountainous towns in Berkshire County, he said. MBI is supportive of the town’s wireless effort, he said.

Town leaders are waiting on information from pilot programs about potential equipment to build the network before gathering all necessary information and taking the project to the town, he said.


STATUS: The town is going through the readiness process. With the assistance of MBI, the town is seeking a private company to build out a network in Tyringham. The town has three providers interested as a result of MBI’s Nov. 18, 2016, RFP. The town is currently reviewing the responses.

CURRENT INTERNET OPTIONS: Fixed wireless (WiSpring), satellite (Hughes Net or DISH)



BROADBAND COMMITTEE MEMBERS: Holly Ketron (chairwoman), Tonio Palmer, (vice chairman), Louisa Gilder, Matt Puntin, Maggie Howard, Benjamin Schaefer, Stephen Cohen, Paula Bradley

QUOTE: “We thought [WiredWest] was a big risk for the town. We didn’t see that it had a high probability of success. At that point, we decided there would be alternatives that would be less risky and less expensive,” said James Consolati, chairman of the board of selectmen.

CLOSER LOOK: Tyringham started out as a member of WiredWest, but dropped out in 2015 due to high risks and costs associated with WiredWest’s solution, Consolati said.

“Now there’s a clear path to public-private partnership,” he said. “In the long run, it could save towns a lot of money.”

The town then began to pursue a public-private partnership through “strand mapping,” identifying for private companies where wires would go for the network. Mid-Hudson Data did the strand mapping and expressed interest in the broadband project. Mid-Hudson Data, Crocker Communications and Fiber Connect have all provided RFP responses to MBI that would cover Tyringham. All the companies require some sort of town financing beyond MBI’s construction grant allocations, Consolati said.

“[MBI] took over the whole process and we basically had to sit back and wait for the results,” he said. “That’s really moved things along a lot faster. It saved a lot of work and really streamlined the process, more than I was hoping for.”

Once MBI approves the RFP responses, Tyringham plans to immediately begin the decision-making process.

“As soon as MBI’s done, we’re going to be all over this,” Consolati said.


STATUS: Pole survey work was completed early January. The town is pursuing a fiber-to-the-home network for those who want service. Pole surveys are in progress.




QUOTE: “Most towns feel that the answer is a regional answer, not a sole-town answer, and that’s Washington’s position,” said Steve Nelson, municipal light plant manager, liasion to MBI and WiredWest delegate for the town.

CLOSER LOOK: Although the town has formally indicated a desire to own an independent municipal network through MBI’s Last Mile Town Readiness Submission Form, regionalization is necessary for cost-effectiveness, Nelson said. Town leaders considered other possible options before realizing that regionalization was the best solution, as it allows for economies of scale and local control over the investment.

“For a lot of the small towns, [regionalization is] the only real choice they have,” he said. “These small towns don’t have people who are available to oversee a highly technological project. They didn’t ask for this. This is MBI’s doing. MBI decided that the towns had to own these networks.”

West Stockbridge

STATUS: Charter Communications is upgrading its previously TV-only cable network in the towns of Lanesborough, Hinsdale and West Stockbridge to provide broadband internet. Charter anticipates completing the project by the end of 2017.


CONSTRUCTION ALLOCATION: $1.6 million (to Charter Communications, shared with Hinsdale and Lanesborough)


QUOTE: “It’s the greatest value we could have gotten for the money,” said Mark Webber, town administrator. “Frankly, we lucked out, the three towns, with Charter doing the upgrade on their own.”

CLOSER LOOK: West Stockbridge is fast seeing progress in Charter Communications’ expansion in the town. Access to broadband internet currently stands at about 90 percent in the town, Webber said.

“We’re in much better shape than most, if not all, of the smaller towns around us,” he said.

Before Charter decided to expand in the three towns with the assistance of Last Mile funding from MBI, West Stockbridge, like many other unserved towns, authorized borrowing for its own network — specifically, borrowing of $1.2 million. But the Charter buildout doesn’t require the town to spend any of its own resources.

“Charter did it on their own dime,” Webber said.


STATUS: The town has completed the readiness process and is working with the bond council to get a greenlight letter sent to the state’s division of local services certifying that the town has the fiscal capacity to actually borrow the money that was authorized in 2015. If the DLS considers the town’s borrowing capacity viable, the town would work with MBI to build a network — ideally its portion of a regional network.

CURRENT INTERNET OPTIONS: DSL, satellite, cell phone mobile access point




QUOTE: “It’s probably going to be two years until anybody gets broadband in Windsor,” said Douglas Mcnally, a Select Board member in charge of the town’s broadband efforts . “We spent nine years treading water.”

CLOSER LOOK: A regional option appears to the only feasible broadband solution for Windsor, Mcnally said.

Windsor has begun to review the RFP responses from MBI’s Nov. 18, 2016, RFP, but they don’t appear promising, he said.

The responses either target areas not including Windsor, or appear not to meet MBI specifications, he said.

Either way, it looks like a private provider-owned and operated network isn’t an option. And a stand-alone, Windsor-owned and -operated network would be too small to yield affordable broadband service, he said.

“We have to regionalize with broadband the same way we have to regionalize with school districts,” Mcnally said.

“You need a larger base to make it sustainable. Nobody would give us an affordable option.We need some kind of regional thing to make it feasible in Windsor.”


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