Shutesbury Broadband Committee plans ‘pole inventory blitz’ as first step in improving Internet access



Last modified: Thursday, October 30, 2014

SHUTESBURY — Some Shutesbury residents get their Internet service by satellite and others through Verizon DSL. Both may be preferable to those who continue using dial-up modems connected to their telephone land lines.

With a variety of technologies used in the community, a group of Shutesbury residents is seeking to modernize access to the Internet and create an infrastructure using fiber-optic cable, which can be 100 times faster than existing cable, satellite or other connections currently available.

“Everyone who’s involved in this is saying we need broadband and we need it yesterday,” said Asha Strazzero-Wild, co-chairwoman of the Shutesbury Broadband Committee.

Strazzero-Wild, who works in the health care field and splits her time between her Shutesbury home and Washington, D.C., said she currently uses Verizon DSL at home, which works most of the time, but lags behind the speeds she is accustomed to in the city.

While Shutesbury and Leverett worked together for several years on finding a solution to the slow Internet by forming a joint committee, Leverett eventually broke off and started its own work. In 2012, Leverett residents agreed to pay for fiber-optic cables with a 20-year, $3.6 million bond approved through a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion vote.

Work is progressing on that aerial fiber-optic cable system with an anticipated launch by January, and the town recently hired Crocker Communications of Greenfield to provide high-speed Internet and telephone service.

The Shutesbury Broadband Committee was reactivated in April and has been putting information out on the town website at shutesbury.org/broadband.

In part, the members were inspired by what is happening in the neighboring town. “There’s a lot of motivation seeing the wires going up in Leverett,” Strazzero-Wild said.

Strazzero-Wild said no decisions have yet been made about whether Shutesbury would pursue a system like the one in Leverett and have its own fiber network designed, built and owned by the town, or whether Shutesbury might work with the Wired West Initiative, a cooperative of more than 40 towns trying to identify a regional solution for fiber to the home, or establish a public private partnership between the town and a private telecommunications company.

To help gather the information needed to make such decision, members of the committee are ramping up for what she is calling a “pole inventory blitz” Nov. 8. Already, 60 volunteers have agreed to go out in teams of three to gather information about utility poles for an iPad app developed by Gayle Huntress, who serves as the other co-chairwoman of the committee.

The information about every utility pole in the 27.2-square-mile town, no matter how thickly settled or sparsely populated, is needed so the committee can understand the costs of stringing fiber and making fiber-to-home Internet access possible for every current and future resident.

“We’ve been spending time right now figuring out how we gather all of this information,” Strazzero-Wild said.

Volunteers will go through a mandatory training from 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Shutesbury Elementary School, and then fan out to all corners of the town the following day.

The committee will eventually make a recommendation on how to proceed that will be brought to the Select Board. If municipal spending is needed, it eventually have to be approved by a vote of Town Meeting.

As a community effort, volunteers will be providing food and other refreshments at rest stops during the “blitz” and will eat lunch at the Shutesbury Athletic Club.

Those interested in assisting should contact volunteer coordinator Zenya Wild at 256-0176 or send email to broadband@shutesbury.org.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


 


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