MMA Innovation Award winner, From The Beacon, February 2016

In the past, it wouldn’t be an uncommon sight to find a high school student sitting in the backseat of a car doing homework, with a parent in the front seat, parked outside the Leverett Public Library, according to Peter d’Errico, chair of the town’s Select Board. That’s because the library had a T1 Internet and Wi-Fi connection that it would leave on overnight — one of the few reliable and speedy connections in town.

“We have a local elementary school, but the kids go to a regional high school, and they were at a real disadvantage because teachers are increasingly assigning work online, research has to be done online, sometimes even papers need to be submitted online,” he said.

That all changed when the town flipped the switch on LeverettNet, a high-speed fiber optic broadband network that the town finished building this past summer. The project, the first of its kind in western and central Massachusetts, has earned recognition from the White House and the U.S. State Department as an example of municipal innovation.

LeverettNet provides 1-gigabit-per-second Internet access throughout the town, as well as telephone service, at a cost of $95 per month for both, which includes a $44 charge by the Leverett Municipal Light Plant for operation and maintenance of the network.

Students weren’t the only ones facing a disadvantage because of the town’s lack of connectivity. While the town of about 1,850 people does not have a major commercial center, it does have professionals who work from home — except when they can’t.

“We have writers, a guy who does [computer-generated imagery] work, somebody who writes code,” d’Errico said. “These people were all having to rent space out of town. They really couldn’t work from home. They would have to go somewhere physically in order to do their business.”

Before LeverettNet, about a third of Internet subscribers paid $90 a month for satellite service that d’Errico said has a time-delay problem. A few had access to DSL, others had high enough elevations for fixed cellular connections, about 10 percent of people used dial-up, and others had no connection at all.

In 2012, Town Meeting approved the build-out of the network and the debt exclusion for a 20-year bond that funded construction of Leverett’s $3.6 million “last-mile” network, which connects to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute’s $90 million “middle mile,” a 1,200-mile fiber optic network covering 45 communities funded by state and federal agencies.

At a broadband conference about a year ago, d’Errico recalled, attendees were told that providers should expect about a 60 percent subscription rate once they’re up and running for three to five years. In Leverett, however, 82 percent of the town’s households were connected to the new broadband network within four months of going live.

“I was smiling at that because we hit 60 percent several months before we even went live,” he said. “My sense is that’s going to be typical of any of the western Massachusetts towns connected. We have a population that is definitely waiting, chomping at the bit for broadband.”

For more information, contact Town Administrator Marjorie McGinnis at (413) 548-9699.

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