Utility pole holdups delaying Agawam fiber-optic network

Feb. 21, 2024 | Tyler Lederer
tlederer@thereminder.com

AGAWAM — Since 2021, the private telecommunications company GoNetspeed has been waiting for Verizon and Eversource to finish preparing Agawam’s utility poles for the fiber-optic cable network they want to install. This month, GoNetspeed chief legal counsel Jamie Hoare told Reminder Publishing that they’re still waiting.

“We understand the frustration about the slow process,” he said. “We share that frustration and we are trying to both get our Agawam network built as quickly as possible, as well as to improve the system in Massachusetts in general.”

Specifically, they are waiting for them to finish “make-ready” work, which involves adjusting wires on the poles or outright replacing them to make sure there’s space for new ones.

GoNetspeed applied to use the poles in 2021, and Verizon and Eversource surveyed the poles to see if there’s room for new cables and find out what needs to be done. GoNetspeed also paid Verizon and Eversource for the estimated cost of the work in 2023. Hoare declined to give a precise figure, but said it was in the millions of dollars.

Several factors have led to the make-ready work taking so long. For one thing, GoNetspeed needs to wait until all poles are ready before they can start installing fiber-optic cable. Adding to that, a significant amount of poles in Agawam need to be replaced.

“Pole replacements tend to be both time-consuming and expensive,” Hoare said. “That is part of the problem, as well.”

But the biggest factor, Hoare said, was that Massachusetts doesn’t have a “one-touch” make-ready system. Under that system, GoNetspeed would hire contractors to survey the poles, submit the survey to Verizon and Eversource for approval, then hire more contractors to do the make-ready work, with no need for Verizon or Eversource to do it themselves.

This kind of system “minimizes impact on pole owners and speeds up process dramatically,” Hoare said.

GoNetspeed is lobbying for bills on Beacon Hill that would bring the one-touch system to Massachusetts. The bills are sponsored by state Reps. Angelo Puppolo Jr. (D-Springfield), Michelle DuBois (D-Brockton) and Bud Williams (D-Springfield); and state Sen. Adam Gomez (D-Springfield). They were referred to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy last February.

With how long the work is taking, GoNetspeed has been unable to estimate when the fiber-optic cable will be installed, or when the project itself will be completed. Hoare said installing the cable goes quickly, and customers should start being served soon after.

Jennifer Gannett, of the Agawam mayor’s office, said the cost of the network will be paid for entirely by GoNetspeed. She said the town wants a fiber-optic broadband network in order to provide an alternative to major cable provider Comcast.

“It gives the consumers of Agawam another choice for faster, even more reliable service,” she said.

GoNetspeed advertises 500 megabit per second, 1 gigabit and 2 gigabit high-speed internet plans. All plans come with an optional unlimited calls plan, and a free wi-fi router.

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