After a long and arduous process, the folks in Mount Washington, Massachusetts, were finally able to light up their publicly owned fiber optic network last week. According to resident and Select Board Chair Eleanor Tillinghast, “We are thrilled. We’re going to be the envy of everyone.”
As we reported last month, the community was eagerly anticipating the opportunity to finish up the last steps to begin connecting subscribers from the town’s 146 premises. Approximately 100 are connected and will take services from local Internet service provider Crocker Communications. In addition to providing Internet access, the ISP will handle billing for the city, provide 24/7 tech support for subscribers, and monitor the network. The infrastructure will be maintained by the company that built it for the city, NextGen Group. Mount Washington owns the infrastructure.
Gigabit connectivity is available, but most subscribers have opted for 500 Megabits per second (Mbps). All speeds are symmetrical, which makes Mount Washington’s network valuable as an economic development tool. Community leaders are already seeing in increase in real estate transactions that they relate to the new network. “People may have ruled Mount Washington out before,” Select Board Member Brian Tobin told the Berkshire Edge. “But we just catapulted ahead of other towns in terms of amenities.” As a potential quiet retreat for New Yorkers located in the Taconic Mountains, Tobin and Tillinghast expect to lure more urbanites who want to work remotely for part of the week. Tobin also has a Manhattan apartment and says that his Internet access speeds in the city are only about 117 Mbps download with slower upload speeds.
Up until now, many of the community’s residents relied on expensive, unreliable satellite Internet access. The remote nature of Mount Washington kept incumbents from investing in cable and only a few had access to DSL. In 2013, the community formed a broadband working group and began investigating options. We’ve documented the story and spoke with Select Board Member Gail Garrett in 2016 for episode 212 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
The town had to obtain special permission from the legislature to pursue the network without forming a Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the public entity that manages a broadband network under state law. Mount Washington was able to convince lawmakers that such an agency would be cumbersome for them because of their small population.
With state and federal funding administered by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) and a grant from the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, Mount Washington has been able to draft a plan to quickly pay down their $400,000 loan. In total, the network has come to about $750,000.
Subscribers will pay $119.95 per month for both voice service and Internet access, which in many cases will be less than what they paid for slow and unreliable satellite. As people switch from their satellite connections to the municipal network, the difference is obvious. Jeb Rong, resident, electrical engineer, and one of the people spearheading the project:
“It’s been a very long process. But so far the reaction from people is amazing. Last night, I helped a homeowner transition from Wi-Spring — the speed was maybe 1.5mb — and we tried out Netflix and the content came through instantaneously. It was very fine, jaw dropping, really.”
Tillinghast agrees. The day she was set to switch from satellite Internet access to the municipal network happened to be her wedding anniversary. She and her husband discussed how to celebrate:
“He asked me if I wanted to go out to dinner. I told him I wanted to go home and switch over our service. That would be much more exciting.”