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Leverett welcomes fast broadband Internet service during Friday celebration



Last modified: Saturday, October 03, 2015

LEVERETT — A decade of commuting to Boston came to an end for Carter Wall this summer when a fiber-optic broadband network connection was activated at her Leverett home.

Wall, who works as a solar consultant and depends on a fast Internet connection to monitor performance of photovoltaics, celebrated the completion of high-speed Internet connections in town with dozens of other residents at Leverett Elementary School on Friday.

“You’ve really improved my carbon footprint,” said Wall, who praised town leaders and her fellow residents for supporting the $3.6 million project.

Already, LeverettNet, as it is being called, is serving more than 80 percent of the town’s 800 households, home-based businesses and the Leverett Village Co-op, a center of commerce and social activity.

The aerial network — the wires are connected to telephone poles — was approved for construction in 2012 when Leverett voters approved a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion for a 20-year bond to pay for the fiber-optic cables.

Residents no longer have to access the Internet by relying on dial-up modems, satellite Internet service or DSL connections, all of which are slower and less reliable than fiber-optic broadband.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, joined other local, state and federal officials at the event to recognize the persistence and creativity of the town. He said the new system will help tie Leverett into the global economy.

“Those of us who have chosen to live in beautiful rural areas like this have basically been denied and have not had the access we need,” Rosenberg said.

He added that economic development and competitiveness as a region is directly tied to harnessing the power of the Internet.

“People have waited a long time in our region to get access to the Internet,” Rosenberg said.

While high-speed Internet is important for the livelihood of some, Pamela Goldberg, CEO of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, said there are other benefits, including children being able to complete homework assignments and people being able to have medical diagnoses done remotely, known as telehealth.

“It isn’t just about accessing the Internet, it’s about what else can accessing the Internet do for you,” Goldberg said.

Leverett is the first of about 45 rural communities in western and central Massachusetts to complete the so-called “last mile” network that ties into a 1,200-mile fiber-optic network built by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute.

Known as the “middle mile,” the larger network is jointly funded by the state and federal stimulus money appropriated by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The combined $90 million effort to build the “backbone” of fiber-optic data transmission lines across the region also spurred the creation of the Wired West cooperative that is helping more than 30 communities get high-speed connections.

Leverett opted to fund the connection work on its own. George Drake, who served on the Leverett Broadband Committee, said decisions to move forward independent of Wired West occurred because residents saw the urgency, as existing Internet connections were not allowing them to load websites such as Amazon or download important research.

“Increasingly, the Internet will not work over slow connections,” Drake said.

Select Board member Peter d’Errico said every house has a direct connection, at speeds of 1 gigabit per second, that is faster than what many are accustomed to. “It’s going to leapfrog over what exists in most other places in the commonwealth,” d’Errico said.

Other speakers said that LeverettNet will serve as an inspiration for other communities.

State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, observed that 13 of the 19 towns he represents are either unserved or underserved. “You’re the first. You’re blazing a new trail here,” he said.

But Kulik cautioned that people may buy property in Leverett if their own towns do not make the investment in high-speed Internet connections.

“If they don’t do what you do, they’re all going to move to Leverett,” Kulik said.

Other communities have taken votes this year. In the neighboring town of Shutesbury, voters agreed by a 417-12 vote at annual Town Meeting to spend an estimated $1.69 million to build a fiber-optic network and join the Wired West consortium. Shutesbury residents could access broadband, as well as cable television and improved phone service, sometime in 2017.

Eric Nakajima, director of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, lauded Leverett for its initiative. “You’re really a model for many other towns,” he said.

Nakajima said his agency provided $666,000 to support the town’s project, which included the 39-mile aerial fiber-optic cable system constructed by Millennium Communications of New Jersey. Crocker Communications of Greenfield is providing the high-speed Internet and telephone service and Holyoke Gas and Electric provides network operation and maintenance.

Not only is Leverett recognized locally, but Sandeep Taxali, broadband development officer for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said that President Barack Obama has cited Leverett as a community whose project will be followed by others.

Tim Wilkerson, director of economic policy for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, said Gov. Charlie Baker will continue support for high-speed Internet.

“We hope to replicate this time and time again throughout western and central Massachusetts,” Wilkerson said.

The celebration concluded with cutting a ribbon that was tied around the fiber-optic system’s “point of presence” hut, next to a Leverett Highway Department building. It is one of two equipment storage buildings for the system in town.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com


 


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