| G. Michael Dobbs
CHICOPEE – With the topic of municipal high-speed broadband service being discussed, Chicopee Electric Light (CEL) issued a statement on its plan to bring such service to the city.
CEL’s plan is to includes brining the high-speed service – described as a “test run” – to a small number of businesses before the end of 2018.
CEL General Manager Jeff Cady said, “We’re a municipal utility and operate in the best interest of our stakeholders, the rate payers. We’re going to operate our Internet service in the same way. We’re going to start slowly, providing service to a handful of businesses to iron out any issues.”
Cady told Reminder Publishing that because the City Council sent the resolution by Councilor Joel McAuliffe in support of municipal broadband to the Utilities Committee, he thought it would be a good time to release additional information about CEL’s plans.
Although Councilor Shane Brooks questioned the validity of the 2015 study the city commissioned about establishing municipal broadband in Chicopee, Cady said it is still important to the discussion.
“We’ve been tweaking it, Cady said. “The basic financial information is valid.”
About the question of the Internet technology becoming outmoded, Cady explained, “The fiber [optic] system is future-proof. We can change the electronic to increase the speed.”
Cady added CEL is about a month away from finalizing a plan for the full design of the municipal system that could ultimately serve both businesses and consumers.
CEL has been providing Internet service to some businesses through an agreement with Holyoke Gas & Electric and its fiber optic network.
Crossroads Fiber, CEL’s name for its high-speed Internet service, will be built out in phases throughout the city. Those businesses that are physically close to the fiber optic network may see an opportunity in 2019 with an expanded pilot program.
The costs for the build-out will be borne by CEL as part of its capital expenditure.
Cady said 70 percent of the businesses in the city are in close proximity to the fiber optic network. After the conclusion of the pilot program, the build-out of the network would be based on customer demand from business customers.
Next summer, CEL will start construction for a pilot project to provide municipal Internet service to 300 to 500 residential customers. He said CEL wants to measure the level of interest from consumers for municipal broadband.
The new network would offer speeds of up to 1 Gb/sec, which is 10-times faster than what is typically available today in the city, according to CEL.
“There are those who may question why we’ve chosen not to pursue a ‘build it and they will come’ approach. The answer is simple. Proceeding in a thoughtful, measured way allows us to control costs and manage construction schedules based on demand. It’s the only way we can ensure Crossroads Fiber is self-sufficient and does not impact electric rates. The measured approach also allows us to speed up construction if the demand warrants it,” Cady said.
McAuliffe has been advocating for consideration of a broader plan to include municipal broadband services to residents to compete again the services offered by Charter Communications and Verizon. He started an online petition at https://www.change.org/p/chicopee-broadband and so far 532 residents have signed to support it.
McAuliffe’s resolution for the City Council to express support for residential service has been forwarded to the council’s Utilities Committee for additional review.
McAuliffe’s actions have been noticed by MuniNetworks.org, an organization that “provide resources for those joining the movement to build broadband networks that are directly accountable to the communities they serve. Case studies, fact sheets, and video are some of the media we offer to help leaders make decisions about community owned networks.”
The organization posted an on-line story about the discussion on municipal high speed Internet at https://muninetworks.org/content/chicopee-official-encourages-residents-share-support-muni-through-online-petition.
Mayor Richard Kos said in a statement, “I am happy to see Chicopee Electric move forward with this project. I think that businesses and residents will benefit from this, but their approach to moving slowly at first makes sense due to the costs and complexities involved.”