Trucks in Otis signal new broadband era

Some parts of town could have internet switched on this fall

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OTIS — With utility crews readying space on poles, Otis is on track to begin stringing fiber-optic cable in August for a long-awaited broadband network, as it continues in the vanguard of unserved towns going it alone.

Otis is working with Westfield Gas + Electric's Whip City Fiber unit to build a system that will provide gigabit speed downloads to all customers.

"It is nice to see the trucks out there and see pole work being done," said Town Administrator Christopher Morris. "It's been a long time. We'll be lighting up neighborhoods with broadband service as we go."

Up first will be the area around the Otis Reservoir on the east side of town. It got the nod in part because of its relatively dense settlement.

If cable is strung as planned in August, the neighborhood could see service begin this fall, Morris said.

The area will be connected to the internet through equipment that will be housed in an addition to the East Otis firehouse.

Morris said he is happy with the town's agreement with Whip City Fiber and that utility's work to date. The two are collaborating as separate Municipal Light Plants, a designation under state law. Westfield is handling procurement of materials, including orders of fiber.

"We'll pay for that as we go," Morris said.

The Westfield utility operates for the public good in its own community and as a partner with others, seeking no operating profit of its own.

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"They're not paying shareholders," Morris said.

Otis received state grants through the Massachusetts Broadband Institute and the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. But its own residents are paying a large share of the project's cost.

The system will run along 80 road miles and seek to connect 1,687 premises, according to figures supplied by the MBI. The state in May expanded its grant to Otis, adding more than $550,000 to an earlier construction allotment. The network is expected to cost nearly $5 million.

A map on the town website identifies the phases of the network rollout. The final phase brings the project to the Otis Woodlands area. Some premises in that community lie in Sandisfield.

Talks are planned to determine whether the Otis project will cross the town line and serve those Sandisfield homes, Morris said.

Meantime, the MBI this week announced a plan to award $805,500 to the private cable company Comcast to provide broadband service to the Hampden County town of Montgomery.

The company has agreed to provide high-speed connections to 96 percent of the premises in town, the standard that MBI set when it adjusted its last-mile strategy about a year ago. Service will reach 360 premises by the end of 2018, the MBI said.

The institute also announced Thursday that existing plans to build out service in nine partially cabled Comcast towns are moving along faster than planned and including more premises than expected. None of those communities are in Berkshire County.

Using a $4 million state grant announced last August, Comcast said it expects to reach 1,257 premises in the nine towns, 168 more than identified in its agreement with the state at no additional cost.

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413496-6214 or @larryparnass.


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