Large swaths of rural Western Massachusetts are about to get gigabit fiber internet after residents in 22 separate towns decided to join a government cooperative designed to bring high speed broadband to places where traditional cable companies refuse to offer service.
The towns have secured $34.5 million in government bonds to undertake the project, which is expected to cost a total of $79 million. The Massachusetts state government is expected to pick up 40 percent of the overall cost as part of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (the $34.5 million is not included in that total), according to the coop, called WiredWest.
WiredWest hopes to eventually wire a total of 32 towns in the state. Of those, 22 have formally joined, meaning that 40 percent of the households in a given town agree to buy the fiber service and have made a $49 deposit to secure their spot. Town councils must also pass a measure agreeing to contribute their share of the overall costs.
"This is a major commitment for a town. In time WiredWest's revenues from the network may cover all or part of the principal and interest on that debt," WiredWest wrote on its site, explaining why wiring the towns may be a controversial issue. "But the town will be on the hook, and some townspeople may oppose borrowing the money. If you want high-speed internet service, you need to be at town meeting to vote yes."
In the end, enough towns have decided to join to make it a reality. So far, 6,700 people have placed deposits for service, which represents a third of the area's overall number of households.
The collective is notable because it's one of several throughout the country attempting to bring high speed internet to places that are primarily served by dial-up or slow DSL lines. The Federal Communications Commission has said that such arrangements are critical to eventually wiring the country, because companies such as Comcast and Verizon have made it clear that it's not worth their investment to connect rural areas.
WiredWest says it will offer 25 Mbps speeds for $49 per month, 100 Mbps for $79 per month, and 1 gb/s speeds for $109 per month. DSL or satellite internet, which is common in the area, usually tops out at just a couple Mbps, at best.
"For too long we've been making do with satellite, DSL or wireless internet. Fiber will render these as obsolete as a dial-up connection," the collective wrote. "After creating a telecommunications coop to bring broadband to rural communities in Western Mass, and completing four years of planning, WiredWest member towns have signaled they're ready to move forward with a regional fiber-optic network."