Time dwindling for Plainfield residents to sign up for broadband

Staff Writer
Published: 12/8/2020 7:59:35 PM

PLAINFIELD — Kimberly Longey, manager of the town’s broadband department, has spent more than a decade trying to get municipal broadband to residents. And while the vast majority of the town’s residents now have the service, or the ability to connect to it, there are still some who do not.

“You are paying for the project through your property taxes,” Longey said. “You should at least get your house internet-ready.”

Construction began on Plainfield’s municipal broadband network in 2018, with the construction of the town’s telecommunications shelter and utility companies preparing their poles for the high-speed broadband cables. The network began rolling out in July 2019.

“We had 47 miles of fiber to run,” Longey said.

Most of the potential subscribers were connected by March of this year when the pandemic hit. The pandemic caused a delay in connecting the final neighborhoods of those who have signed up but, by the fall, everyone who’d signed up for the service was connected to it.

Currently, Plainfield has 275 municipal broadband customers and 43 households who have made their houses internet-ready but are not subscribers at this time. That leaves 44 residences that have not signed up to connect to the system or make themselves internet-ready. This is in addition to 23 outbuildings/accessory apartments that have not been signed up and six residences that are classified as uninhabitable dwellings. Plainfield’s population was 648 as of the 2010 census.

Municipal internet costs $85 a month for gigabit internet service for residential customers. Home-based businesses with five or fewer users receive the same pricing as residential customers for rates and connecting, while larger businesses are connected through pricing plans or custom proposals.

“It’s amazingly fast,” said Longey, who also works for the advocacy group Free Press.

Customers can also sign up for phone service through the broadband service, at a cost of $12.95 a month and around $7 in state and federal taxes and fees a month for unlimited local and long-distance calls.

Rebecca Coletta is a Select Board member who also helped to bring municipal broadband to town as a member of Plainfield’s municipal broadband committee.

“It’s a huge gift to the community,” she said.

Coletta said that before municipal broadband, most of her friends and neighbors in town were unable to stream, and she questioned whether or not they’d have been able to use the videoconferencing application Zoom, which has become an important tool in the pandemic, without the broadband service.

“It’s great that Plainfield has joined the 21st century,” she said.

Longey is encouraging those who have not become part of the town’s system to put a request in this month, as after Dec. 31 the necessary work could take months, as opposed to weeks. Longey said that she won’t be able to guarantee when crews will be available to do the work after this month, noting that a number of others communities are putting in their own municipal broadband networks as well.

Connecting to the system, or making one’s property able to connect to it, is free for residential customers. However, Longey said that at some point the borrowing authorization for constructing the network will be rescinded. When that happens, residents will have to pay the cost of connecting on their own.

Plainfield’s network functions by running high-speed cables to houses via utility poles, which connect to the town’s telecommunications shelter. The shelter connects to a Massachusetts Broadband Institute connection point, which then connects to the rest of the web through Springfield.

Longey said that the project costs $2.3 million, $789,000 of which is being paid for by the state. The rest of the network is being paid for by the town’s taxpayers, who authorized borrowing in 2015 and in 2019. Plainfield’s small size meant that providing broadband to the town was not feasible for a for-profit company.

“We made a decision to invest in our future,” she said. “We had to do it ourselves.”

Plainfield’s municipal broadband service currently has enough subscribers to cover its non-debt costs, and Longey says it plans to set up monetary reserves to deal with emergencies. She said that more subscribers could mean more money in these reserves and/or reduce the cost of service.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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