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Citizens, experts to join public on June 10 in figuring out how to keep the Greylock region on the fastest information superhighways

Monday, June 1, 2015
Bill Densmore

The Greylock region isn’t on any physical superhighways, but a group of citizens and experts will meet June 10 in Williamstown to discuss how it can make sure its residents and  businesses are on the fastest of information superhighways.

“A Conversation about Connections: Can the Greylock Region Keep Up with the Digital Economy?” is set for 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. on Wed., June 10, at the Milne Public Library in Williamstown. The roundtable is free and public. It is organized by Citizen Media Inc., the nonprofit publisher of the Greylock Independent.

In Worcester, Mass., a test found a standard residential subscriber to Internet broadband service supplied by Charter Cable ran at 65 megabits per second and cost $51 a month.  In Williamstown, by contrast,  50 megabit service from Time Warner – the fastest offered routinely, is advertised regularly at $69 a month.

But Williamstown and North Adams have something available that residents of Worcester do not – their towns are served by a state Internet “backbone” – MassBroadband 123 —  that could make 1 gigabit – that’s 1,000 megabits – of speed available to the region’s homes.  The result — businesses could locate here and their employees could work as if they were sitting next to colleagues in any high-tech center in the world.

“Speeds of gigabit+ erase the distance between a desk in Williamstown, Mass. to a desk in Singapore,” says Ben Greenfield, a network expert based in Williamstown who works for the Calder Foundation. “They access the network resources at the same speed. Williamstown and Singapore can compete for jobs.  It also places internet business based in Williamstown on par with anywhere else on the globe.  There are areas of specialization  that require faster networks. If it becomes necessary for business’s to connect at speeds of 10 gigabit or 100 gigabit it is a simple upgrade.”

In organizing the June 10 gathering, Citizen Media member Bill Densmore wrote to participants:

The Greylock region is blessed with a spectacular environment and, because of population decline,  ample physical infrastructure for its size.  It’s former reputation as physically isolated can now become a great strength and draw — a place where efficient, intense creativity can be blended with tranquility, community and physical beauty.

 But the growth of our knowledge and arts economy will be slowed or stopped if a key enabling element — Internet connectivity — is sub par.  Standard Internet service offered by Verizon is not classified as “broadband”  by the FCC, and business-class and fast service from Time Warner is variable and relatively expensive compared to cities.

 Meanwhile, Vermont, New York State, and small hill towns of Massachusetts are all slated to have faster services.   What can North Adams, Adams and Williamstown do to economically meet or exceed the quality of service offered by other locations so that our region is attractive to knowledge-economy entrepreneurs?  

Join us for a open conversation on this topic.  

 WHO’S COMING

Among participants in the June 10 circle-round discussion will be:

  • Donald Dubendorf, a Williamstown attorney who has studied and worked on statewide Internet broadband-access issues for more than two decades.
  • Ben Greenfield, of Cogs Inc., in Williamstown, who is proposing a neighborhood high-speed broadband project.
  • Adam Chait, account manager, Berkshire Fiber Connect in Great Barrington.
  • Mark Bouvier, sales director, Axia NGNetworks, Boston. Axia is a private company that won the contract to operate the MassBroadband 123 fiber network.
  • Bill Stathis, Crocker Communications, Springfield, Mass.  Crocker has a key role in operating the municipally-owned broadband network in the small town of Leverett, near Amherst, which will make gigabyte speeds available to residents.
  • Anne O’Connor, newly elected selectperson in Williamstown.

Greenfield has 24 years experience building interactive systems for businesses, museums, and individuals.  He is a technology consultant to the Calder Foundation in New York, and lives in Williamstown.

At present, Williamstown residents can connect to the Internet via Verizon’s copper phone lines using a technology called “DSL”.  It typically runs at speeds of 3 megabits/second or less at standard pricing of about $40/month. That speed level is not defined by the Federal Communications Commission as “broadband.”

The only broadband supplier is Time Warner, which delivers speeds in the 10-20 megabit range to standard residential customers.

Dubendorf was among key people who organized the use of federal and state grants to make use of fiber optic cables running along the Massachusetts Turnpike over the last decade. A fiber-optic spur runs up Routes 20 and 7 to Williamstown and over to North Adams and Adams. That spur, experts say, is capable of delivering gigabyte (1,000 megabit) speeds to thousands of consumer users.

The challenge is getting that speed capacity beyond key locations like Williams College, the Clark Art Institute, Town Hall, libraries, schools, the Harper Center and the Water Street fire station.

One idea to be discussed on June 10 is whether “microcells” could be mounted on one or more of those buildings for delivering wireless broadband, faster than Time Warner, to subscribers.

Officials from Time Warner and Mass Broadband have both declined to have their organizations send anyone to the June 10 event, citing unspecified schedule conflicts.  An invitation to Verizon is pending.

THE VERMONT HIGH-SPEED PROJECT 

State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi , D-North Adams, has been following Internet service issues for years and is vice chair of a legislative committee on economic development.  She writes:

Check out the costs for gigabit ethernet in communities throughout the country here:

Springfield, Vermont: With a lot of government assistance, VTel recently started deploying gigabit Internet and phone service to as many as 17,500 customers in its rural service area. The price is the best part: customers only have to pay $35 a month for the cheapest package that includes gigabit. VTel officially places a monthly bandwidth cap of 2.5TB on customers, but it says it generally lets them go well over that without penalty.