Broadband Internet FAQs
- What is the status of our neighboring towns in their efforts to acquire broadband? If all of them decide to contract with Westfield Gas + Electric at the same time, will it pose a problem for Plainfield?
- Who presently owns the “middle mile” fiber that serves the town offices, library, etc., and will the “middle mile” be available for use as Plainfield builds out the “last mile”?
- Given the number of abandoned roads in town, what will happen if someone builds a house on a road unserved by poles or wires? Will the town be obligated to extend the network on those abandoned roads to serve those houses?
- What entity pays for the “make ready” work on all the utility poles? Will Eversource and/or Verizon retain ownership of the poles at the conclusion of the project?
- Has any thought been given to an underground infrastructure so cables will not be affected by weather?
- Will any portion of the residential monthly bill go to debt payments? What is the feasibility that subscribers will be able to pay off the bond issue?
- What percentage of registered voters supported the original vote in 2015?
- How will alarm systems work on a different type of network?
- Are there plans for possible TV service to be included as well?
- After the network is “lit,” what, if any, will be Verizon’s role in the community?
- Will the Plainfield Broadband network reach every home in Plainfield?
In western Massachusetts, 42 towns currently do not have broadband service. The options available to each of these towns has changed dramatically since late 2015 as the Commonwealth’s “Last Mile Broadband” effort has shifted: some towns have no viable broadband options, some have a few options, and some have only one option. Several of Plainfield’s immediate neighbors (Ashfield, Cummington, and Windsor) are pursuing financing and construction of town-owned broadband networks. Savoy is investigating its options, and Hawley is grappling with funding issues. We are all working together to share information, solve problems, and select solutions. WG+E is currently extending its fiber network to 40 neighborhoods in Westfield, each of which has about as many residents as all of Plainfield. The more towns that contract with WG+E at the same time as Plainfield, the greater the economies of scale we may be able to achieve in materials and construction procurement, and the more opportunities we will have for interconnection. WG+E has access to suppliers and fiber contractors nationwide, and there is ample capacity to build out any number of municipal networks in Massachusetts.
MassBroadband 123 (MB123) is a broadband network with approximately 1,200 miles of fiber-optic cable connecting communities in western and north-central Massachusetts. MB123 is owned by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) and was not designed to serve residential customers. While the use of “backhaul” Internet connection through the MB123 middle mile network could be part of the design and engineering of Plainfield’s last mile network, which will serve residences, it is not our only option. We will weigh many factors, including costs and service-level agreements, in order to identify the best “backhaul” option for Plainfield.
The Plainfield Planning Board is reviewing and validating all of Plainfield’s roadways (existing, discontinued, and abandoned for maintenance). Plainfield’s “last mile” broadband network has been designed and will be built to pass 100 percent of current premises as documented on the official street list and verified occupied/occupiable by site visit. The network is designed to be expandable, as long as town planning, zoning, and building regulations allow. The capital costs of future expansion are being factored into the long-term financial plan of the network.
“Make ready” work is the process of ensuring the utility poles, upon which the fiber-optic cable will be strung, are in suitable condition to receive the cable. This process includes surveying the condition of each pole, determining what improvements, if any, are necessary, and then making those improvements to each pole. Under current Massachusetts regulation, the entity that needs the use of the pole is obligated to pay for this work, but the improvements do not change ownership of the pole. Eversource owns most of the approximately 980 utility poles in Plainfield, and Verizon and the town each own a few. “Make ready” work for Plainfield’s broadband network is estimated to cost $450,000, or approximately 25 percent of the total cost of construction.
Yes, and we have determined that a town-wide underground build would be cost-prohibitive, due to the prevalence of stone ledge and the complexities of securing right of ways on private property. It is also important to note that fiber-optic cable is vastly superior to both traditional copper telephone lines and coaxial cable lines, and weather conditions do not cause as severe damage to fiber optics.
Plainfield’s broadband network is essential for our town’s survival in the twenty-first century, just like rural electrification and telephones were in the twentieth century. We are working to make sure broadband is not coming to the detriment of other essential services we also support. As with roads, schools, police, fire, and emergency medical services, taxpayers support the cost of infrastructure and services, regardless of their personal use of those things. The cost of this investment in our future will add to the array of town-provided services, rather than taking away from any existing service.
There are two phases of this project: capital and operational. The capital costs include network construction, debt service, and depreciation reserves. Funds to build the network were appropriated by Town Meeting in 2015, to be matched by a $650,000 grant from the state. The operating costs of the network include administration, maintenance, and all particular Internet, telephone, and other services purchased through the network
In 2017, the Selectboard approved a broadband committee recommendation that the costs of this project be shared between taxpayers and Internet service subscribers. Taxpayers will build and own this infrastructure, thus taxpayers will pay the capital costs of creating this infrastructure, including the interest on the debt. The current estimate for annual capital costs is equal to a $247 annual tax increase based on a $250,000 average property valuation. Service subscribers will pay for the operations and maintenance costs. The specific subscriber service costs will be determined closer to the time the network will be operational, but are currently estimated to be less than $90 per month (less than or comparable to what most people in town are now paying for Internet and phone service over satellite, cellular, or DSL).
The 2015 Annual Town Meeting in Plainfield had the highest turnout in the memory of anyone present, and the meeting had to be relocated to the church in order to accommodate everyone. Of the 168 registered voters present, 164 voted in favor of the appropriation and borrowing authorization. One week later, in a special referendum election, 134 of the 144 ballots cast were in favor of approving a debt exclusion for this borrowing.
Fiber broadband networks that include emergency power-failure systems on all equipment, such as battery backup or automatic generators, provide reliability that equals or exceeds that provided by the current copper-wire telephone system. Many alarm monitoring companies now offering Internet-based alarm monitoring for both fire and security, as approved by the 2013 version of the National Fire Protection Association National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. This may require a change in alarm equipment at the residence.
Yes. This will be decided later, but before our network is “lit” and service is offered. The television market is dynamic, even volatile, and requires substantial acumen and aggregation to negotiate. We have more to learn before we can plan.
In 2012, Verizon Chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam stated his vision: “We are going into the copper plant areas and every place we have FiOS, we are going to kill the copper.... And then in other areas that are more rural and more sparsely populated, we have got LTE built that will handle all of those services and so we are going to cut the copper off there. We are going to do it over wireless. So I am going to be really shrinking the amount of copper we have out there...” (Verizon at Guggenheim Securities Symposium, June 21, 2012. http://www.verizon.com/about/investors/guggenheim-securities-2012-tmt-symposium ).
Over the last several years, Verizon has been delivering on the first part of this vision in some urban areas, retiring copper phone service in densely populated areas (see the many Copper Retirement notices for Massachusetts communities at http://www.verizon.com/about/terms-conditions/network-disclosures). Meanwhile, people moving to Plainfield have discovered that Verizon no longer offers DSL service to any new customers. In 2017, the FCC proposed a draft rulemaking that would make it easier for Verizon to end DSL and landline phone service entirely in areas like Plainfield, “where alternative voice services are available to consumers in the affected service area” (https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-344161A1.txt, quoted at http://stopthecap.com/2017/04/12/fcc-considering-making-easier-telcos-kill-landlinedsl-service/ ).
We plan to build a fiber-optic network that is capable of serving every residence and business in Plainfield that wants to take service through the network. Currently, this means building more than 40 route miles to get to 339 premises. We plan to bring the broadband network past 100 percent of homes so that current and future homeowners have access to broadband Internet service.