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Town Builds its own Fiber Network to Increase Broadband Access and Close the Digital Divide

Charlemont, MA, USA
The Atlas Community Team

Government Champion

Broadband Committee

Cost

Initial:
3.5 Million USD

Project Status

Operational since 2021

At a Glance

Charlemont, Massachusetts collaborated with its local utility provider to build its own fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network. The network is meant to increase internet accessibility, close the digital divide, and better support economic development, remote work, telemedicine, and distanced learning.

Problem Addressed

Charlemont is a small town in Franklin County, Massachusetts with a population of only 1,185. With internet access becoming increasingly important, the town was looking for ways to increase broadband connectivity to its residents.

About 75 to 80 percent of town residents can get access to Verizon Digital Subscriber Line (DSL). They can additionally connect via satellite internet, but this comes at the cost of limited data and general performance issues. This left residents with limited optionality, and those that did connect to the internet (if using satellite) didn't have equal access to those that had the more reliable option.

With remote work and distanced learning still relevant even past the pandemic, the city needed to increase internet accessibility to promote economic development and support local business.

Charlemont, MA used/is using fiber-optic internet services to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

Initially, Comcast proposed a $460,000 contract, which would have connected 96% of the area's households with high-speed internet. However, town meeting voters rejected the proposal, which prompted Charlemont to advance its own project: a town-owned fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network.

In collaboration with Westfield Gas & Electric and its Whip City Fiber division, the Broadband committee has created the new fiber-optic municipal internet service, Charlemont Connect. In August of 2021, broadband was connected in the first of five sectors, with the rest of the sectors to be finished by the end of the year.

Quickly after, citizens could opt in for installation which includes wiring, a router, and tests to verify performance. “People who have gotten service seem to be really happy with it,” Handsaker, the city's Broadband Committee Chair, noted. He attributes customer satisfaction to the speed of the new network, which comes in at 1,000 megabits per second, or 1 gigabit symmetrical upload and download, given that other options were relatively slow and unreliable.

Residential and business service costs $79.99 a month, with both wifi and equipment. The Emergency Broadband Benefit program gives those who qualify $50 a month off of their bill, and this includes any family that qualifies for free or reduced school lunch. This has enabled increase connectivity in communities previously lacking internet access at home.

Outcomes

  1. Increased internet speed (1,000 MBPS) and reliability throughout the town from previously slow and unreliable options
  2. More access in households previously lacking internet connection, supported by the Emergency Broadband Benefit program
  3. Expanded capacity for overall economic development, remote work, telemedicine, and supporting local businesses
  4. Within a month of installation, there were already 400 residents subscribes and as of November 2021, 100 of them have been activated and are receiving internet service
  5. The Emergency Broadband Benefit program gives qualified enrollees $50 off their monthly bill, including families that qualify for free or reduced school lunch.

Who Should Consider?

Communities looking to increase broadband access to its constituents to better support economic development, telemedicine, and remote work.

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