Shutesbury Broadband Committee
It's time to bring high-speed fiber internet to Shutesbury!
February 3rd: Last week we received news from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) that they are changing the process once again. Although we still can get our allocation of the construction grant money, they will not be supporting the management of the build process.
This change comes after a year of other frustrating delays and policy changes. The Broadband Committee is moving swiftly to take action. We’re working to get a warrant article ready for a Special Town Meeting (before Annual Town Meeting in May) in order to take control of our broadband build.
In March we will have an informational meeting with all the details and a forum to address your questions. We are currently working with town leadership to weigh the financial implications and clear legal uncertainties. Our goal is to see construction happening as soon as possible.
For those of you have been staying abreast of the MBI initiated RFP process for private companies to provide broadband (as opposed to us owning our own network), we have vetted the available options. None of them meet our town’s core criteria for broadband service at this time which is why we continue to pursue a town-owned network.
Here is an article in the Berkshire Eagle.
January 18th: Susan Crawford of the Berkman Center at Harvard University releases an article critical of the Last Mile Project. Read it here.
Our town pole survey process is set to complete in February and town officials plan to attend a meeting on January 28th to learn about the WiredWest Operations solution.
December 10th: Yesterday, several media outlets incorrectly reported that funding for Last Mile broadband expansion in Western Massachusetts was included in recent state budget cuts. This is NOT accurate. Last Mile funds were not impacted by these cuts. Those are bond funds covered under the Commonwealth’s annual capital plan, not by the annual state budget.
The Governor's office and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute continue to advance local projects. Shutesbury's pole survey is slated to begin the week of December 19th.
November 18th: Thanks to everyone who joined us on Thursday, November 17th for the Broadband and Doughnuts informational meeting.
The Broadband Committee gave a short presentation and update and took questions about the current project status. If you missed it, see a meeting summary transcript here.
Broadband At a Glance
The Shutesbury Broadband Committee in cooperation with the Shutesbury Select Board and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) is currently working on building a municipal broadband network.
The plan is to connect all homes in town to the internet via fiber optic cable. Fiber optic cable will provide internet access to all subscribers at speeds up to 100 times faster than average DSL, cable or satellite connections (1-3 Mbps).
Our success depends on the core values of our municipal network:
Equitable: Every home, business and buildable lot in the town must be served by the network.
Financially Responsible: The funding model for the project must be realistic for our town with a prudent plan for repayment of any incurred municipal debt within a reasonable timeframe.
Affordable: The cost of monthly subscriber fees must be competitive and fair for townspeople.
High Quality: The network must be reliable and secure, with maintenance plans to deliver ongoing quality service.
Scalable: The network must serve residents for years to come and be easily modified, updated or expanded to provide continued access as needs increase.
The project build will be paid for using a combination of taxpayer funds and state grants and will be a public utility serving the residents of Shutesbury. The network will be sustained and maintained by monthly subscriber fees.
Our goal is to have an operational network by 2019.
The purpose of the Shutesbury Broadband Committee is to bring high speed fiber internet to every home in Shutesbury in the most cost effective, equitable, minimum risk, high quality and expedient manner possible.
We are currently working on a plan to connect all homes in town to the internet via fiber optic cable. Fiber optic cable will provide internet access to all subscribers at speeds up to 100 times faster than average DSL, cable or satellite connections (1-3 Mbps).
The Shutesbury Broadband Committee consists of eight townspeople who report to the Select Board. We are a highly motivated team with prior work experience as project managers, networking specialists, database administrators, business people and information technology infrastructure designers.
You can reach the team by email at: broadband -at- shutesbury.orgor call 202-266-5385
At the moment a fraction of Shutesbury residents have access to the internet via Verizon DSL, which is slow when compared with the options in nearby towns. The current DSL service is built with deteriorating electronics on old copper telephone wires. It is an outdated and limited technology that can't keep up with today's internet. Some households pay high rates for satellite-based internet, which suffers from high latency, outages during bad weather, and limits on data usage. In addition, very few parts of our town have cellular phone service. In short, we are an underserved community.
Over the last 20 years, various companies have hinted at or even promised to deliver broadband internet to Shutesbury. None of them has done so and there is little reason for them to invest in our community. Shutesbury has relatively few households and low population density so there's not an adequate return to warrant investment by commercial internet companies.
Shutesbury will ONLY get high-speed broadband through a community-based initiative.
Why This Matters
Reliable, affordable internet access is important for all residents because it brings numerous benefits to our community. Broadband internet is no longer a luxury, but rather an essential utility in the 21st century.
-To maintain the value of our homes. Many home buyers and renters will not consider a property that does not have broadband available.
-Makes work-from-home jobs and small home-based business attractive and possible.
-Can reduce household costs by bundling phone and internet service together.
- Shutesbury is the ONLY town in the Amherst Regional School District whose students do not have widespread internet access. This puts them at an educational disadvantage compared to the other three towns in the district.
-Students can complete research and access homework assignments online
-Parents are increasingly expected to access children’s school information online
-Adults and children can use the unlimited resources available for online learning opportunities
-Access to online courses and degree programs for continuing adult education
-Residents can be notified about emergencies and access information critical to their safety and well-being
-First responders can send and receive critical voice, video and data information
-Town health and safety volunteers can receive online continuing education and certification
-Access health information online
-Access to specialists regardless of geography
-Provide remote care and monitoring for patients in their own homes
-Allows elderly to stay in their own homes longer while receiving quality care
-Direct communication with your own health care providers
-Connect parents to online resources and support groups
Quality of Life
-Makes Shutesbury an attractive hometown choice
-Stay informed about town and community events
-Stream movies, television and other online media
-Stay connected with friends and family around the country
WiredWest and Project Background
WiredWest is a cooperative of 30+ towns in Western Massachusetts which are working together to bring broadband to its member towns. Shutesbury joined WiredWest at its inception and has been an active member for over a decade.
The WiredWest cooperative was instrumental in bringing attention to the critical issue of lack of broadband infrastructure throughout the rural parts of Massachusetts and worked diligently on the state legislature’s passage of the IT Bond Bill in 2014, which earmarked $50 million to help underserved areas get connected.
The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), the government organization responsible for managing the Last Mile program, worked with WiredWest to help create a solution. However, in 2015 the working relationship began to falter. In late 2015 the state changed its policy effectively shutting WiredWest out of the process.
This was followed by the resignation of the MBI director and a state-wide pause on all broadband projects. We launched a state-wide petition that garnered over 6,000 signatures calling for action by the Governor. In late spring 2016 the Governor’s office lifted the pause, appointed new leadership at MBI and made additional changes to the state’s broadband policy.
The new policy allows town-owned networks but also encourages private-public partnerships. The state is still unclear how it will work with private companies on solutions or how it will bring service to the most rural and economically challenged areas. It is clear that they will support towns who want to move ahead to own and operate their own municipal networks. Shutesbury, as one of the ready towns, is moving forward with this solution. The current state policy encourages regionalization and lowered costs, but fails to provide the details of acceptable regional configurations or tangible solutions.
Still unknown is what this will mean for WiredWest. WiredWest is working on an alternate plan to regionalize management, maintenance and a common Internet Service Provider in order to comport with state guidelines and benefit from a regional operations model – but NOT ownership.
In addition, the state is working on a new set of policies to allow private companies to partner with towns to own and operate its networks for them. This is in direct opposition to an earlier policy directly mandating that towns own their own networks. In short, the state policy is still in flux. We are frustrated with the changing rules and delays and, along with many other towns, have voiced our dissatisfaction with state leadership.
In the meantime, we are moving forward with the steps that need to be done no matter which model we pursue so that the project is not delayed further. We are pleased that the state is at least supporting these initial steps.
The Finance Committee, Select Board and Broadband Committee will thoroughly vet any proposed plans, including a revised WiredWest plan, to make sure it is in the best interest of our town. If it is not, we will own and operate our own network (as Leverett does). This is our plan as of Fall 2016, since no better plan currently exists.
Many of you signed up for service and made a $49 deposit during the WiredWest pre-subscription drive. For the time being we are encouraging townspeople not to ask for their deposit back. Shutesbury is still an active member of WiredWest and we’re hoping that there will be an alternate plan for operations, if not ownership, of the network that will be beneficial to Shutesbury. Your deposit is held safely in escrow and cannot be spent by WiredWest. If it becomes clear over the next year that we will definitely not be using WiredWest’s regional operations plan we’ll send out townwide announcements with instructions on how to get your deposit back.
If you decide you do want your money back now, please visit http://wiredwest.net/campaign/refunds/ and follow the instructions (also below here).
We at WiredWest have pledged to return customer deposits with interest upon request. In order to fulfill the legal requirement to have funds removed from the escrow account where the deposites are now held, we must hear from you directly and in writing. Email does not satisfy this requirement.
Please mail a written, signed request to:
99 Main Street
Northampton, MA 01060
Include the name and service address used when your deposit was originally made. You should expect to receive your refund with interest within 2-3 weeks of our receiving your written request.
Frequently Asked Questions
Disclaimer: Questions below include our best estimates and pricing models based on our current broadband plan of Fall 2016. As mentioned above, the state policies and regional options are still unknown so answers are based on the current, most viable option of a town-owned and operated municipal network.
How will this project be financed? This project will be funded by our taxpayer dollars and a major Massachusetts state grant. The network construction cost to Shutesbury is estimated to be $1.7 million. Shutesbury taxpayers authorized borrowing for this amount both at the Annual Town Meeting held in May 2015 and in a debt exclusion vote in June 2015.
Will Anybody Be Left Out? No. You can choose whether or not to sign up for service, but if you live in Shutesbury, the network will be available to you as a subscriber.
How much will my taxes increase? The estimated tax increase for an average single family home ($243,000) is $153 per year (about $13 per month).
We're using the highest tax increase possible in this estimate. The estimates used reflect the "worst case," or "not-to-exceed" tax burden to our town to build the network. Ongoing maintenance, service and operations costs will be covered by subscription fees after the build is complete.
We expect many households to save on monthly telephone and internet bills to compensate for the potential tax increase.
EXAMPLE MONTHLY COST FOR AVERAGE HOME ($243,000):
Average current expenses
Average potential future expenses
High-speed Fiber Optic Internet
Ave. Added Real Estate Tax
For the average household in this example, we expect a savings of about $25 per month or around $300 per year – for much better service and speed than what you have now.
How much will the monthly subscription fees cost? The monthly fee depends on which kind of service you choose . Internet only plans will be around $75 per month. Internet plus full-feature phone with nationwide long distance, caller ID, voice mail and other special features will be around $95 per month. Super-fast internet up to 1000 Mbps as well as business and multiple phone line services will likely beavailable for additional charges.
What about TV? Will I be able to get television service through the high-speed internet that is coming to Shutesbury?
In short, yes. You will have various options.
History - traditional options: The delivery of TV service is changing rapidly nationally - and more and more television is moving to the internet. In the early days, all TV came through the airwaves, at no charge. Then cable companies (Charter, Comcast, Time Warner, et al.) came along and distributed TV at a fee (and with a municipal monopoly) on cabling that they owned and maintained. To compete with that, and for those of us without cable, TV was then offered from (expensive) satellite delivery, through companies like DirecTV and Dish. Satellite options charge for the delivery of content and for the content itself, at high prices.
Now - Over the Top: As a result of the wide availability of broadband internet, media companies are now choosing the internet as their preferred delivery vehicle for the future. DirecTV has just announced DirecTV Now, offering equivalent packages as from their satellites, but coming into your home via your internet connection. Packages start at $35/month. Similarly, Dish Network has offered SlingTV, with basic packages of $20-40/month. Hulu and others are reportedly prepping similar packages for public release. These "over the top" (means television that is delivered over the internet) bundles look almost identical to cable packages. The word "almost" is used here because the bundlers have to negotiate with the content creators (ABC, NBC, CBS, HBO, ESPN, et al.). The gaps in packages are due to early phase snags in negotiating the licensing of the content - most expect that this will be cleared up in the next year or so as more and more consumers prefer the lower costs and convenience of internet delivery.
For example, CBS offers streaming service, but NBC and ABC have not yet launched theirs. DirecTV Now and SlingTV have some missing channels in their streaming packages, due to the negotiation of content licensing (see this article for who had what as of Dec 2016). We anticipate that by the time Shutesbury's high speed internet is operational, most of this will be settled, and you will have a wide range of options for TV - "over the top."
Note that there are some shows currently that ONLY available over the top, such as Netflix series. You currently can’t watch Netflix shows through cable or satellite packages.
So how does it work? If you’re getting your television signal via the internet, you will still watch TV directly on your TV. It doesn’t mean you have to watch TV on your computer! Most TVs now come "smart" - ready for internet-delivered content. In addition, Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire Stick, and others are small, inexpensive devices that connect older TVs to the internet (DirecTV Now can use most of these, and will currently give you a free Apple TV or Amazon Fire Stick if you commit to 3 months of service!). These devices act just like your cable box where you can use a TV guide listing of channels. It also and it comes with remote control, recording, etc.
Additionally, the internet allows the possibility of unbundling - a la carte options where you can just choose the specific channels you want. Cable and satellite bundles often include a relative few interesting channels and hundreds of paid advertising channels (Home Shopping Network, QVC, Jewelry Television, etc). Individual content providers now offer "over the top" subscription packages, so that you can pick and choose what you get. For example, "CBS All Access" offers all CBS content (including their NFL games) for $5.99/month with commercials or $9.99/month – all commercial free(!). ESPN and MLB networks also offer content so you can get national sports. You can stream shows live while they are broadcast nationally or at a later time at your convenience. Watching shows later, even just a bit later, allows you to stream the show without commercials.
With a la carte or bundled packages, you can also typically access shows from your smart phone, tablet, or computer when you are away from home with a high speed broadband internet connection. While at home, it also means that just about any device can become a television. And finally, the "over the top" solutions typically do not require annual contracts like cable and satellite. As options change, you can change your packages to best suit your needs.
Can I just get telephone service only? You must subscribe to internet service. The other services "ride" on the internet. You may select internet alone or internet plus phone.
I already have DSL at my home. Why do I need this? The internet itself is constantly evolving. Websites are adding features, videos and other content which require a fast connection to run. Remember the days of dial-up and how there were some websites that either took forever to load or wouldn't load at all? That will become the plight of regular DSL as web content evolves and becomes more sophisticated. The DSL speeds we have in Shutesbury now (1-3 Mbps) likely will have trouble handling the internet that's coming in the next few years. Even now, many Shutesbury residents cannot load data-heavy websites or stream video content through their current DSL service at certain times during the day when system usage is high. Read more about the phasing out of DSL here.
I don't use computers or the internet. Why should I care about broadband? Even if you don't use the internet yourself there's a compelling reason to support the plan and that's home value. Many of our residents have already encountered difficulty selling or renting their homes because fewer and fewer people are willing to move to an area that lacks adequate internet service. When it's time to sell your home you'll possibly receive up to20% less if high-speed internet isn’t available. (Source: The Guardian [New York] 1 Mar. 2014: "Fast broadband now considered vital by increasing numbers of homebuyers." Online. Estimate confirmed by professional local realtors at Jones Realty, Amherst, Massachusetts.) Read an article in the Greenfield Recorder here about how the lack of internet is affecting our area.
How Soon Will I Have Broadband? A project of this scope requires many complex decisions and financial arrangements, as well as the involvement of private and public entities all working together. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) has a full time staff working in partnership with town leadership to build the western Massachusetts network. Our community could have broadband in 2018 if we're one of the first towns to be built.
Why is this taking so long? We’ve received this question more than a few times! The answer is cost and the complications of state government. After the state legislature passed the $50 million IT Bond bill the governor’s office went through a change in leadership. The new administration had different ideas about how the Last Mile Grant should be administered. The changes and indecision have meant that no new broadband builds have started in the state of Massachusetts in the past two years. Shutesbury and all other underserved towns have been left waiting.
In order to move forward immediately on our own timetable without state involvement, we would need to forgo most of the state’s financial aid and authorize borrowing for an additional $890,000. There is no guarantee that the state would reimburse Shutesbury for these costs. Taxpayers would have to cover the FULL AMOUNT already authorized PLUS and an additional $890,000.
Will there be an installation fee? (The following costs are based on our current best project estimates) Each premise will incur a flat rate connection fee of $100-$200. Private roads with existing utility poles are covered and will be wired at no extra cost. This includes the Lake Wyola area. For long driveways leading to a single house, the distance covered is up to 750 feet. This is for driveways with either utility poles OR existing conduit with available capacity. If there aren't poles or conduit, the homeowner will need to pay for installation, but a credit will be applied for the equivalent amount it would cost to do a 750 foot installation on existing poles. The flat rate connection fee only applies to people who sign up before construction begins. This is because it is cheaper to connect up houses in batches during the initial build out. If you decide to jump on the bandwagon after initial construction, that would require sending an additional truck and crew to connect your house. This will cost extra, so it makes sense to pre-subscribe. We don't yet have a signup deadline. Note that installation and connection charges for utilities are standard and a fee under $200 is VERY reasonable compared to what a private company would charge.
Why are we using taxpayer dollars for this? Shouldn't a private company cover the costs? Over the last 20 years, various companies have had the chance to deliver broadband internet to Shutesbury. None of them have done so and there is no reason to expect them to invest in our community now. Shutesbury has relatively few households and low population density so there's not an adequate return to warrant investment by commercial internet companies.
Can I keep my existing Verizon phone / DSL service? Yes. You are under no obligation to use any service provided by the town. However, Verizon has stated publicly that they plan to phase out DSL service for existing customers.
What Parts Of This Cost Money? Building the network involves paying for many different aspects of a town-wide infrastructure project. It is similar to bringing electricity to every home. Costs include:
- A network design - i.e. where the fiber will run and what splitters or other equipment is needed. The design is also a prerequisite for making detailed cost estimates.
- A project manager or project management company to coordinate and schedule the work, ensure contractors are paid, ensure work is completed on-time and correctly, and be responsible for the details of the project
- Police details during construction
- Pole application fees to Verizon and National Grid/Western Mass Electric. The application fees are required of the town if when use the utility companies’ existing poles.
- “Make ready” work done by Verizon and National Grid/Western Mass Electric. This involves moving their existing equipment where necessary and preparing their poles for the addition of our fiber optic cables.
- The fiber itself and other hardware and technology components to build a fiber infrastructure.
- Labor and electronics to actually install the fiber on poles and connect it to our homes.
Who Will Own The Resulting Infrastructure/Network? The Massachusetts Broadband Institute will contract for the design and build of the network, and manage the distribution of state grant monies to the project. After the build, our town will own, manage and maintain the resulting network.
What About Municipal Wireless? The Shutesbury Broadband Committee does not endorse any wireless solution because wireless internet depends on line of sight, is affected by weather, and is far slower than fiber-optic networking. It has the same problems as cellular telephone reception.
Please read this article for an explanation of why wireless networking is not a realistic solution to bring broadband to all of Shutesbury. Want more? Download the Wireless Primer for Western Massachusetts Towns.
How Will the Data From the Townwide Pole Inventory Be Used? A pole inventory is an essential first step to any fiber network design because the fiber will ultimately be hung on the poles that are co-owned by Verizon and National Grid/Western Mass Electric.
Shutesbury is the only town in the region that performed a pole inventory on its own. Over 60 volunteers participated in November 2014 to complete our goal of inventorying over 85% of the town's utility poles. The information collected was used to develop a preliminary cost estimate for the project. Two years later we are still referencing the data collected during this important event as we plan the design.
Special thanks to our community sponsors for the event: Whole Foods, Jones Realty Group, Staples, Target, Stop 'n Shop, Marshalls, Glazed Doughnuts and The Shutesbury Athletic Club.
What's so great about high-speed fiber compared to other internet services? The term for internet speed is "Mbps" which means "megabits per second." In Shutesbury the highest speeds available now are 1-3 Mbps. Our townwide fiber optic network will deliver speeds of 25 Mbps to 1 Gb, and more. These high speeds mean you can work, surf the internet or stream movies and your kids can do research for a school project all at the same time - with no reduction in speed regardless of the time of day. Unlimited data means you won't be charged extra no matter how much you use the internet. Whether you're working from home on a snow day or enjoying a movie with your family, a fiber network will deliver the speeds you need.
Axia - Axia is the company contracted by MBI to administer the "middle mile" network. Any fiber-to-the-home network built by Shutesbury would resell the bandwidth bought in bulk from Axia.
Backhaul Network - the connection between a local network and the wider world of the internet.
Fiber Optic – The type of cable that allows high-speed internet to be delivered through it. Fiber optic cables are actually thin flexible transparent solid fibers that allow signals of light to pass through them and are used mostly for telecommunications purposes.
Last Mile - term used to refer to connections between a point of presence of the Middle Mile fiber optic backbone and individual households. It is the last leg of a network.
Latency - the time it takes for data to reach a destination independent of the speed of travel. Satellite internet suffers from high latency. An analogy is turning on a garden hose and waiting for the water to reach you. That delay is the latency - and is the same phenomenon seen with satellite internet - you click a link, and after waiting for a while the page arrives. Fiber internet has the advantage of little or no latency.
Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) - MBI is a quasi governmental organization funded by state and federal grants. MBI works closely with municipalities, broadband service providers and other key stakeholders to create new economic opportunities and bridge the digital divide in Massachusetts. MBI has succeeded in bringing the "middle mile" network to the centers of many communities in Western Mass, including Shutesbury. MBI is administering the 2014 $50,000,000 authorization from the state to build out "last-mile" networks to homes in Western Mass.
Middle Mile - the set of fiber optic cables that connect points of presence in towns with the internet backbone. Completed in early 2014 by MBI and paid for by state and federal grants the Middle Mile gives high-speed internet access to critical town buildings such as police and fire stations, libraries, town halls and schools. The completion of this Middle Mile backbone allows Last Mile projects to connect residential homes.
Municipal Lighting Plant (MLP) - A legal entity under Chapter 164 of Massachusetts General Laws, which authorizes the town to deliver telecommunications services, including internet service as a public utility. Shutesbury has an MLP already established for this purpose.
Point of Presence (POP) - the place where fiber optic lines to households connect to the cable that runs out of town and connects to the wider internet. Usually located in a central place in a town, such as town hall or town center.
Request For Proposals (RFP) - The formal process by which a town requests bids from contractors to do work
Take Rate - the percentage of households in an area with a network who actually subscribe to use the network. Having an accurate estimate of this is important to be able to predict sustainability and secure financing.
Wired West is a Municipal Lighting Plant Cooperative of 30+ towns in Western Massachusetts who are working together to bring broadband to its member communities and towns.
FY 2014-2015 and FY 2015-2016 archived minutes are available upon request.
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Media and Press
**Note these are press events related directly to Shutesbury. Links will become inactive when the media source removes the story from their website. We cannot reprint the stories here without permission, but if you subscribe to their website you may be able to access back issues.**
2/3/2017: Berkshire Eagle article about the changing policy of the MBI.
10/30/2014: Amherst Bulletin:Shutesbury Broadband Committee plans ‘pole inventory blitz’ as first step in improving Internet access
11/03/2014: Dark Fiber community:Shutesbury Broadband Committee Take Steps to Improve Access
3/16/2015: Daily Hampshire Gazette: Shutesbury begins campaign to demonstrate interest by residents in high-speed Internet
4/20/2015: Muninetworks: Shutesbury and Wendell Residents Ready to Vote on WiredWest
4/29/2015: Daily Hampshire Gazette: Shutesbury WiredWest vote Saturday:
5/04/2015: Mass Live:Shutesbury Town Meeting authorizes $1.69 million for WiredWest broadband network
6/8/2015: Daily Hampshire Gazette: Shutesbury voters to decide on override to pay for broadband network
6/13/2015: The Boston Globe: Remote Mass. towns welcome broadband’s arrival
10/12/2016: Daily Hampshire Gazette: Utility poles survey means progress toward Shutesbury broadband
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