WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- The town has taken a first step toward creating a super-fast Internet competitor to Time Warner cable, and Crocker Communications Inc., the Greenfield-based company which managed building a municipal system for Leverett, Mass., said on Friday it may be interested in helping.
Responses are due by May 20 to a town "Request for Information" which was posted on Williamstown.net -- the town's website -- on Thursday. The RFI says the town is evaluating "options for making broadband available to its residents and businesses" by "evaluating the last-mile options to make fiber optic cable available to its residents and businesses."
In an email exchange with GreylockNews.com, Matt Crocker, president of family owned Crocker Communications Inc., said: "We are very interested. Thanks for sending me the link. We will work up a response." Crocker's participation in the Leverett 1-gigabit municipal Internet system has been written up as a national case study. Now, nearly 500 Western Massachusetts residents are petitioning Massachusetts Gov. Charles Baker to release $50 million in funds to build rural broadband.
The town's RFI, authored by Selectman Andrew Hogeland, notes that the quasi-public Massachusetts Broadband Initiative delivers super-fast Internet service to Williams College and the Clark Art Institute, as well as to town buildings and other community-anchor institutions such as town hall, the library, schools and fire station.
But so far, connecting this government-owned and paid-for Internet connectivity, has proved a competitive and bureaucratic challenge throughout Western Massachusetts, despites its educational value. In effect, super-fast, publicly owned Internet connections exists throughout the region, but almost no citizens can connect to them. The town's RFI is a response to suggestions in last year's town Economic Development Committee report. Hogeland served on the committee.
That December 2015 report concluded the town "should continue to investigate the potential of broadband access to be a community asset for both residents and businesses, and to understand the project scope, costs, benefits and organization options for such a project so that an informed decision can be made whether to pursue broadband access."
Connections to the Internet have been available in Williamstown and the region for at least 25 years, first through "dial-up" phone connections, then through so-called "Digital Subscriber Lines" -- DSL -- via phones, and for at least 20 years from the monopoly cable-television franchisee -- now Time Warner Cable and soon to be Charter Communications via a merger.
But the issue has been speed of access. As entertainment -- movies and other services such as connection to medical-technology or distance learning -- have increasingly moved from text to multi-media, the need for faster connections is seen by some as an economic-development priority.
Verizon has technical difficulty delivering speeds of more than 5 megabits/second over phone lines because they are copper wires to homes; Time Warner's fiber-optic cable lines to homes can support speeds many times faster, but Time Warner's prices for doing so are prohibitively high for consumers -- $80 a month for only 10 megabits/second -- barely fast enough to watch a low-definition movie. Also, both Verizon and Time Warner's standard services are "asynchronous" -- the speed to download (consume) information are as advertised, but the speeds to upload (create) information are a fraction of that. Thus they create a culture and reality of consumption rather than creation.
By contrast, Leverett residents, served by Massachusetts Broadband and local fiber-optic cables managed by Crocker, delivers 1 gigabit service to homes (that's 1,000 megabits/second) for $80/month -- or about 100 times the monopoly broadband supplier Time Warner is selling for $80/month. And the Leverett service is "synchronous" -- the upload and download speeds are the same.
Last year, Citizen Media Inc., the non-profit publisher of the Greylock Independent newsletter and website, organized a community discussion of broadband options for the region. Despite repeated invitations, neither Verizon nor Time Warner sent any representatives to the discussion.
Besides non-broadband consumer Internet services provided by Verizon, and monopoly-priced broadband services from Time Warner, the other potential superfast link to the web in the Greylock region besides MassBroadband is a fiber optic cable buried along the old Boston & Maine railroad right-of-way. It's not clear who controls the cable, installed during the 1990s by the old MCI Telecommunications Corp. or what the cost might be to connect to it.