A group of towns in rural western Massachusetts are fed up with broadband availability in their towns and are doing something about it. Muninetworks.org points our attention to  WiredWest Communications Cooperative, a project where several rural Massachusetts towns are in the process of forming a cooperative to build and operate a broadband network.

From the surface, the move appears to follow the lead of the hundreds of telephone and electric cooperatives that were formed decades ago to solve a similar problem. There are some distinct differences though.

WiredWest is in the process of forming the broadband cooperative under Massachusetts law. Forty-seven towns have expressed interest in the cooperative and ten towns have successfully completed the first voting process. Several other towns have upcoming votes. WiredWest hopes to name its founding members by June 30, 2011

According to the WiredWest website, under Massachusetts law, “each town must vote twice within 13 months with a 2/3 majority to create a so-called municipal lighting plant (MLP), which is essentially a new town department with authorization (a) to provide the town with telecommunication services and (b) to join a cooperative of MLPs for this same purpose.”

The goal of WiredWest is to build an ‘open access’ FTTP network, which wholesales capacity to retail ISPs and other communications carriers, who in turn market services to end customers. WiredWest proposes that “the “last-mile” network we are proposing will adhere to a business model that raises money independently of property taxes, and supports itself from subscriber revenues.”

WiredWest wants to connect to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, a broadband stimulus funded middle mile network for backhaul.

It’s an interesting and growing model. But it’s not without controversy and it also has many potential ‘land mines.’ By no means will it be easy. It’s a trend worth watching.

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3 thoughts on “Rural Broadband Cooperative Forming in Rural Massachusetts

  1. Another wired network is not the answer. Those economics do not work. You have a lot of history that supports this conclusion.

    I agree you should be frustrated with the lack of investment by Telco and Cable providers to get to what all agree is the optimal network solution, an all fiber solution. However, when you pass 2-3 sites and win only 1, you have little economic incentive to upgrade your plant.

    What if, like what was done in international to upgrade US and Foreign Carriers copper to fiber, the Municipality facilitated a joint build to upgrade their networks to all fiber.

    Labor makes up 50-70% of the cost; this coupled with continued improvements in technology to lower the cost of fiber per household passed, I recommend a colloborative build effort.

    If only the Cable and Telco companies could put their differences to the side for awhile, do the upgrade, all would win, and create jobs. Oddly, you had a lot more Carriers putting their differences to the side to upgrade the transoceanic cables….we just have not figured that out in the US yet, and all pay the price for it.

    Want to learn more on my ideas, see my website at http://www.lightthewaysolutions. com

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