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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Without taking a formal vote, Williamstown selectmen on Monday endorsed an already-submitted request for a regional study of broadband fiber-optic options among Berkshire County cities and towns already served by the Spectrum-Charter Communications cable giant. Meanwhile, state officials were preparing to unveil and take testimony from towns in Windsor on Thursday about proposals to build fiber networks in hill and smaller towns that have no broadband at all.LINK: READ MORE AT GREYLOCK INDEPENDENT.The MassBroadband unveiling of six proposals to provide broadband service to underserved towns is the subject of a public hearing — starting at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 16 at the Worthington Town Hall and running for as long as it takes to get through testimony from town officials and other testimony — up to as late as 6 p.m.RELATED LINKS:
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.
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.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – The Greylock region isn’t on any physical superhighways, but a group of citizens and experts will meet Wed., June 10 in Williamstown to discuss how it can make sure its residents and businesses are on the fastest of information superhighways.
“A Conversation about Connections: Can the Greylock Region Keep Up with the Digital Economy?” is set for 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. on Wed., June 10, at the Milne Public Library in Williamstown. The roundtable is free and public. It is organized by Citizen Media Inc., the nonprofit publisher of The Greylock Independent.
In Worcester, Mass., a test found a standard residential subscriber to Internet broadband service supplied by Charter Cable ran at 65 megabits per second and cost $51 a month. In Williamstown, by contrast, 50 megabit service from Time Warner – the fastest offered routinely, is advertised regularly at $69 a month.
But Williamstown and North Adams have something available that residents of Worcester do not – their towns are served by a state Internet “backbone” – MassBroadband 123 -- that could make 1 gigabit – that’s 1,000 megabits – of speed available to the region’s homes. The result -- businesses could locate here and their employees could work as if they were sitting next to colleagues in any high-tech center in the world.
"Speeds of gigabit+ erase the distance between a desk in Williamstown, Mass. to a desk in Singapore," says Ben Greenfield, a network expert based in Williamstown who works for the Calder Foundation. "They access the network resources at the same speed. Williamstown and Singapore can compete for jobs. It also places internet business based in Williamstown on par with anywhere else on the globe. There are areas of specialization that require faster networks. If it becomes necessary for business’s to connect at speeds of 10 gigabit or 100 gigabit it is a simple upgrade."
In organizing the June 10 gathering, Citizen Media member Bill Densmore wrote to participants:
The Greylock region is blessed with a spectacular environment and, because of population decline, ample physical infrastructure for its size. It's former reputation as physically isolated can now become a great strength and draw -- a place where efficient, intense creativity can be blended with tranquility, community and physical beauty.
But the growth of our knowledge and arts economy will be slowed or stopped if a key enabling element -- Internet connectivity -- is sub par. Standard Internet service offered by Verizon is not classified as "broadband" by the FCC, and business-class and fast service from Time Warner is variable and relatively expensive compared to cities.
Meanwhile, Vermont, New York State, and small hill towns of Massachusetts are all slated to have faster services. What can North Adams, Adams and Williamstown do to economically meet or exceed the quality of service offered by other locations so that our region is attractive to knowledge-economy entrepreneurs?
Among participants in the June 10 circle-round discussion will be:
Donald Dubendorf, a Williamstown attorney who has studied and worked on statewide Internet broadband-access issues for more than two decades.
State Rep. Gailanne M. Cariddi, D-North Adams (via Skype teleconference).
Ben Greenfield, of Cogs Inc., in Williamstown, who is proposing a neighborhood high-speed broadband project.
Adam Chait, account manager, Berkshire Fiber Connect in Great Barrington.
Mark Bouvier, sales director, Axia NGNetworks, Boston. Axia is a private company which won the contract to operate the MassBroadband 123 fiber network.
Bill Stathis, Crocker Communications, Springfield, Mass. Crocker has a key role in operating the municipally-owned broadband network in the small town of Leverett, near Amherst, which will make gigabyte speeds available to residents.
Teresa Martin, who heads Lower Cape Community Access Television, holds journalism and education degrees, helped lead Silicon Valley startups and advised on broadband issues for the Cape Cod Technology Council.
Anne O’Connor, newly elected selectperson in Williamstown.
Greenfield has 24 years experience building interactive systems for businesses, museums, and individuals. He is a technology consultant to the Calder Foundation in New York, and lives in Williamstown.
LITTLE "BROADBAND" IN WILLIAMSTOWN NOW
At present, Williamstown residents can connect to the Internet via Verizon’s copper phone lines using a technology called “DSL”. It typically runs at speeds of 3 megabits/second or less at standard pricing of about $40/month. The Federal Communications Commission defines "broadband" as six times that speed ---25 megabits/second or more.
"The new broadband benchmark sets downloads at a speed of 25 megabits a second and uploads of 3 megabits a second. The previous standard was a download speed of 4 megabits a second and an upload speed of 1 megabit a second," the New York Timesreported in January.
The only "broadband" supplier is Time Warner, which delivers speeds in the 10-20 megabit range to standard residential customers -- still less than FCC-defined "broadband". Time Warner's network is capable of much higher speeds, but they charge more.
Dubendorf was among key people who organized the use of federal and state grants to make use of fiber optic cables running along the Massachusetts Turnpike over the last decade. A fiber-optic spur runs up Routes 20 and 7 to Williamstown and over to North Adams and Adams. That spur, experts say, is capable of delivering gigabyte (1,000 megabit) speeds to thousands of consumer users.
The challenge is getting that speed capacity beyond key locations like Williams College, the Clark Art Institute, Town Hall, libraries, schools, the Harper Center and the Water Street fire station.
One idea to be discuss on June 10 is whether “microcells” could be mounted on one or more of those buildings for delivering wireless broadband – faster than Time Warner -- to subscribers.
Officials from both Time Warner and Mass Broadband have both declined to have their organizations send anyone to the June 10 event, citing unspecified schedule conflicts. An invitation to Verizon is pending.
"You often hear that it is too expensive to bring fiber-optic lines to every home, business and institution in a rural ara," Monica Webb, volunteer chairman of WiredWest, said in a 2010 interview with Berkshire Trade & Commerce (AUDIO: recent interview). "But that only means it's too expensive for the business model of private-sector companies who have to show profitability in a very short period. It is not too expensive if it is done by the communities themselves on a basis that does not have to meet those market demands."
THE VERMONT HIGH-SPEED PROJECT
State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi , D-North Adams, has been following Internet service issues for years and is vice chair of a legislative committee on economic development. She writes:
Check out the costs for gigabit ethernet in communities throughout the country here:
Note the closest community is Springfield, Vermont.
Springfield, Vermont: With a lot of government assistance, VTelrecently started deploying gigabit Internet and phone service to as many as 17,500 customers in its rural service area. The price is the best part: customers only have to pay $35 a month for the cheapest package that includes one gigabit. VTel officially places a monthly bandwidth cap of 2.5TB on customers, but it says it generally lets them go well over that without penalty.