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Plainfield, a Hampshire County town of 650 residents, has begun the buildout phase of its municipal broadband network following a unanimous vote during the annual town meeting in April.
The town is working with Westfield Gas and Electric to build out the fiber internet and telephone service.
“We started working on this in 2006, when it was really becoming apparent that the internet was becoming the telecommunication highway of this century,” said Plainfield Broadband MLP Manager Kimberly Longey.
For the past 13 years, the town has explored a number of options to solve the problem of unreliable phone and internet service, including petitioning Verizon (the current service provider) and other private partners, and reaching out to the WiredWest project, while exploring the option of building its own network. In 2011, a town-owned network was selected as the best option, and officials began building community support. The town established a municipal light plant in 2015.
“Our community has struggled to maintain population and be an environment where people can work from home, telecommute, run their home businesses,” Longey said. “We have struggled with lack of reliable connection. … Everything we need to do to function is completely online now.”
The two-phase buildout starts this month. Phase one requires bringing fiber down every street and making sure it goes to the end to reach every current and future homeowner. Phase 1 is estimated to take three to four months.
Phase two will bring fiber up to people’s homes, which is estimated to be completed by the end of the year. Service to the entire town is expected by early 2020.
This is the biggest infrastructure project Plainfield has ever done, Longey said, at a cost of $2.2 million.
The fiber network has a 50-year lifespan, and the cost of borrowing will go on the municipal debt base.
Once the service is up and running, the funding of delivery and maintenance will come from departmental receipts. The town needs 220 households to sign up for the service to be sustainable. Currently, 173 have signed.
Even though the town did not participate in a regional buildout, Longey said it is still acting as part of a region.
“There is a huge degree of cooperation of communities across the 413 area code on this issue,” Longey said.