General Questions

Q. Why does our region need this kind of network?

A. Building this type of network will have numerous important positive effects for our region – and conversely – not taking the initiative will stifle future prospects for our communities.

High-speed internet access is necessary for:

Regional commerce – Today, and even more so in the future, true high-speed internet access is a requirement for conducting business. Having this kind of network means the businesses in our region can compete on a level playing field with the rest of the State; the rest of the Country; and the rest of the World.

Western Massachusetts has the highest proportion of home-based businesses in the State and also relies heavily on tourism revenues. Their futures are directly tied to wider high-speed internet access. Universal access means businesses can reduce costs by locating anywhere (including in the home), rather than only in areas where access already exists.

Universal internet access combined with the quality of life our region offers would entice more telecommuters and people of all ages to remain in, or relocate to the area. This benefits our region by increasing the tax base and demand for services, and also contributes to the vitality and diversity of our communities.

And finally, having wider internet access will attract new business to the region – both large and small business, which is important for employment opportunities, tax revenues, and investment in our region.

Education – It is shameful in this day and age, that our local teachers cannot assign internet-based homework because not all students have adequate home access. And when internet-based research is required, many of our students have to go to the local library – often after hours – and sit outside or in a car to access the internet.

Compared to their urban counterparts with high-speed access, our students are receiving a learning experience that is inferior in its exposure to technology; opportunities and efficiencies in learning and research; and access to distance learning.

Health & Public Safety – Of particular importance to rural areas lacking comprehensive access to health care, telemedicine enables health care professionals and patients to take advantage of digital communications to save money, time, travel – and most importantly – improve the quality of care. This includes everything from monitoring patient prescriptions, to diagnostic video conferencing with specialists, to remote monitoring of patients to safely allow older adults to remain in their homes.

Broadband networks can assist police, fire and other law enforcement personnel in many crisis situations, allowing them to access and distribute large amounts of critical information quickly and securely, thereby reducing response times.

Government Operations – There is demand from citizens for governments to make more services available online, so they can be accessed 24/7. There’s also the need for greater government efficiency that includes online processing and communication with other levels of government, all of which are not possible today for some of our town governments who lack adequate internet access.

Our existing internet infrastructure is obsolete and will stifle our region’s prospects unless replaced.

With bandwidth usage increasing dramatically over the last few years due to growing use of bandwidth-heavy audio and HD video applications, the speed of accessing information and applications over limited-bandwidth technologies like DSL, cable modem and wireless has begun to hit capacity.

Private companies have deemed urban and suburban areas as profitable enough for their business model to upgrade to future-proof fiber-optic networks, while rural areas are left to struggle with limited service from obsolete technologies. The only way to ensure our region has strong economic, educational and quality of life prospects, is to take the initiative ourselves and build a municipal, fiber-to-the-home network for all.

This type of network will sustain our communities.

The substandard nature of the internet infrastructure in Western Massachusetts today disadvantages our businesses and institutions, our workers, our students, our medical professionals and their patients, our health and safety efforts, and our governments. In turn, that affects the vitality of our communities. Our ability to retain young people and families; and to attract businesses and top talent to relocate to our area is reduced.

In addition, with today’s model, the average Western Massachusetts household pays between $1,000 and $3,000 annually for internet, phone and television to corporations out of state – at higher rates for inferior service compared to our urban and suburban counterparts.

Building a universal, open-access, community-owned fiber-to-the-home network would fundamentally change the prospects for our communities. It would provide better opportunities for business; employment; operational efficiency; education; health and welfare; and better quality of life. It would ensure our communities remain diverse and vibrant.

And it would provide its own economic stimulus to the region. It would employ people locally building the network and operating it, and would create a regionally-owned asset that would keep revenues for service in the region.

However you look at it, there is a critical need for this kind of network in Western Massachusetts and the potential contribution to our region is significant. To see first-hand accounts of how a municipal, fiber-to-the-home network has enhanced people’s lives in Chelan County, WA, please see this video.
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Q: How long until high-speed internet gets to us?

A: We cannot provide an accurate time frame at this point, due to timing of certain tasks and the sizable complexity of the project. However, we are as desperate for high-speed internet as you are!

Now that WiredWest has governance in place, a high level engineering plan, cost estimates and market research, we are working on finalizing the business plan and crafting a strategy for financing, in the first quarter of 2013. Then the project will begin the financing process, which could take anywhere from a few months to a year. We are also working on a plan and timeline to get the network built. We will keep you posted on developments that will bring our schedule more clearly into focus.

Q. What type and level of service will be offered and how much will it cost residents for service?

A. The high capacity of a fiber-optic network enables high-bandwidth internet, high-definition television and phone service. Fiber also enables other ancillary internet-based services such as real-time two-way video in-home medical care; real-time two-way video education; home security; and “smart homes,” that enable remote management of heat, appliances, and power usage. Although the details on the types of service and affiliated costs aren’t confirmed, we’re actively working on the business model and financing for the network, which will drive the pricing and exact offerings. Currently residents typically pay between $125 and $200 for these services with almost all of that money going out of the region! (Consider, for example, $40 phone, $60 internet, and $60 satellite TV.) Our goal is to create a network where service providers offering internet, TV and phone packages can be competitive with existing prices – and provide better service.

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Q. Why Fiber? Why not DSL, cable, satellite or wireless?

A. A fiber-to-the-home network involves the communications signal being delivered over fiber optic cable to the home or business. Fiber is the fastest known technology, transmitting information at the speed of light and using one of the world’s most stable materials – glass. This technology is the most reliable method to provide vastly higher bandwidth to households and businesses, supporting modern applications. With rates of bandwidth use skyrocketing, sufficient bandwidth has become critical to education, health care, government, competitiveness of existing business, and attraction of new businesses to the region. It is as critical to the future of economic growth as access to a telephone line.

Fiber means phone, cable television, and very fast Internet over just one line. One strand of fiber has thousands of times more bandwidth capacity than any of the last generation technologies like DSL, cable, satellite and wireless, and thus is the only one considered “future proof.” These last generation technologies have limited bandwidth that will not meet emerging and future needs, like video-streaming, video conferencing, remote medical care, file sharing and cloud computing. Currently the FCC is predicting an order of magnitude increase in bandwidth requirements every two years, based on recent history. Why build a highway based on past traffic volumes?

Unlike last generation technologies, fiber is also highly scalable to accommodate enormous future increases in bandwidth. Today’s fiber capacity is limited only by the end-point optics and electronics. As better equipment becomes available or more bandwidth is needed, upgrades providing orders of magnitude increases are relatively simple, without changing the fiber infrastructure.

Compared to copper-based DSL and cable systems, fiber is also cost-effective to install and maintain. It’s the cheapest way to bring universal, reliable high-bandwidth service to rural America. It is, in fact, cheaper than the copper wires we extended to American homes 100 years ago, on a cost-adjusted basis. Also, because fiber is lashed to a high-tensile cable, it is less susceptible to breakage and weather events. As a hard-wired solution, it is not vulnerable to the shortcomings of wireless technologies. The fiber itself is installed on existing pole or conduit infrastructure and most of the cost is in labor, providing good regional economic stimulus in the deployment phase, and a critical foundation for future regional commerce.

Fiber-optics also makes environmental sense. Fiber users report doing more work from home. On average, fiber customers work about one more day a month from home because of their connectivity. If everyone worked at home just one day a month we would see annually:

* 5% reduction in gasoline use
* 4% reduction in C02 emissions
* $5 billion in lower road expenditures
* $1.5 billion commute hours recaptured
* Direct savings to business

Reduced carbon emissions observed in installing and maintaining a fiber-optic networks results in an annual savings of about 700 pounds of greenhouse gases for the first 15 years of a given network implementation, or the equivalent of a European car travelling 1200 miles. After that, the annual savings more than double because the network is depreciated and only a small part of the infrastructure needs to be renewed each year. For comparison, voice-grade copper systems require electric signal repeaters every mile or so for satisfactory performance; while optical systems can go 60 miles with no electric power input required.

In the late 20th century, copper wire technologies were tweaked to increase the amount of data they could carry. However, despite these improvements, the fundamental physical properties and limitations of the medium are no different today than when the first telephone exchange was opened in 1877 by the Bell Telephone Company. Our bandwidth needs are now increasing 40 to 50% per year, and they are beginning to dramatically slow the flow of information over this “suped-up” copper, the same way increasing the number of homes served by one small water pipe would reduce the flow to each home.

Like the other last generation technologies, wireless has similar bandwidth limitations, making it slow and ill-equipped for modern applications. It’s also subject to the interference from weather and signal obstacles including foliage. Of particular challenge to our area is the requirement of a clear line of sight between the transmitting tower and the receiver at the residence.

Wireless is extremely useful where mobility is the top priority, but is not nearly as robust or secure as optical fiber for the “heavy lifting” telecommunications requirements – nor is it economically feasible in our region if universal coverage is the goal. The best way to use wireless is as an addition to a foundation of universal fiber through centrally located hotspots.

In much of the rest of the world, and urban/suburban areas of the U.S., fiber networks to the home have become the deployed medium of choice. It is important that our rural businesses, students, medical professionals and citizens can live and operate on a level playing field with the rest of the world. Just like the rural electrification initiative of the early 20th century, without the next generation fiber infrastructure, our community will be left behind as the rest of the world moves rapidly to develop and use it. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.

For more information on fiber-based networks, please see the following links:

Q. Isn’t fiber too expensive for rural areas?

A. Rural fiber-to-the-home being too expensive is a myth. It is too expensive for the business model of private providers – particularly those who are publicly-traded companies – who have to show profitability in a very short period. And that’s precisely why we don’t have ubiquitous high-speed internet access now – we’ve left it to the private market.

Think back to the rural electrification of America. Then, as now, it wasn’t profitable enough for private companies to build out electrical service to rural communities. Imagine where those communities would be today if the government hadn’t stepped in to help fund this essential service – which over time has sustained itself and become a profitable enterprise.

Rural fiber-to-the-home is affordable when you use an appropriate financing and business model that isn’t subject to the same short-term measures of profitability as a private company. A municipal model for example, allows capital investment that can be written off over a longer period of time.

Communities are driven by the “common good” interest of providing critical infrastructure that serves a larger constituency: individuals, businesses, schools, government entities and service providers. It not only provides them with the essential tools to prosper, but also becomes a regional asset that employs people in the construction and operation of the service, and pays revenues for services back to the region.

Participating towns will not be asked to finance the capital costs of building out the network. Together the towns will determine the best business structure and model that will enable low-interest financing (likely municipal bonds) to construct and run a self-sufficient fiber optic network.

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Q. What about the efforts of the state (Massachusetts Broadband Institute)?

A. The state is building the Mass Broadband 123 middle-mile network with state and federal funds. This network will significantly increase the fiber-optic backhaul inventory in Western Massachusetts; provide interconnection points for last-mile networks; and upgrade connections at Community Anchor Institutions to fiber-optic quality.

WiredWest is a last-mile municipal cooperative of over 40 towns unserved and underserved by broadband. The WiredWest network is focused on connecting individual homes and businesses, to create universal access and a robust, long-term solution from end to end.

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Q. Why can’t we just make Verizon provide us all with DSL?

A. We believe this is a bad strategy for many reasons, not the least of which is that DSL is a last-generation stop-gap solution that is already inadequate, and will serve to hobble the future economic development of our region.

In addition, there would be enormous effort required financially and legislatively in trying to achieve this, with a low probability of success.

Q. If a town already has a multi-year contract with a cable TV provider (e.g. Comcast or Time Warner), does that exclude them from participating

A. No, it just creates more broadband options. WiredWest will create a fiber optic network that will allow any vendor to offer TV, phone and broadband services in addition to any existing provider such as cable TV companies. The additional competition will give residents greater choice and we expect that the quality of a fiber optic service will be preferred.

Q. My town already has broadband in part of the town. How would this new network affect existing broadband subscribers and providers?

A. Some (or even all) of the residents in your town may already have access to broadband (via DSL, cable, or wireless). A new fiber optic network will be accessible to all residents — whether or not they currently have broadband access, and will provide modern applications and services using the faster, higher capacity fiber optic network. We believe the advantages to users of getting service over a fiber-optic network while supporting a community-owned asset will be strong incentives for people to choose the fiber option.

Throughout the country wherever fiber optic networks are deployed, residents with a choice of alternative broadband technologies usually switch to fiber. Community-owned fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks have been around for about ten years and after four years the percentage of residents who choose to subscribe to services on a municipal FTTH is on average 54%, which is much higher than typical subscriber rates for DSL or cable broadband. Thus, we have good reason to believe that a fiber optic network will be successful and competitive with other technologies.

Q. Why are some towns not part of the WiredWest footprint?

A. The consensus of WiredWest Charter towns was to make our initial focus the communities in most need–unserved, meaning no broadband at all, and underserved, typically meaning only a single provider. Depending upon the level of interest, we may extend service to other better served areas in the future.