Leverett lights up townwide broadband

For The Recorder/Carol LollisRick Reiken works on his computer at the Leverett Village Co-Op. Reiken said he comes to the Co-Op for its high-speed Internet access because his service in Shutesbury is too slow.

For The Recorder

*Archive Article*

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

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

Wall, who works as a solar consultant and depends on the Internet to monitor performance, was one of dozens of residents who came to the Leverett Elementary School gym Friday afternoon for an event, featuring local, state and federal officials, celebrating the completion of high-speed Internet connections in town. Already, LeverettNet is serving more than 80 percent of the town’s 800 households, home-based businesses and a center of commerce and social activity, the Leverett Village Co-op.

The aerial network was approved for construction in 2012 when Leverett voters agreed to pay for the fiber-optic cables with a 20-year, $3.6 million bond by passing a debt exclusion vote.

No longer do residents 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 the fiber-optic broadband.

State Sen. President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, came to Leverett to recognize the persistence and creativity of its town leaders and residents and allowing the town to tie 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.

Economic development and competitiveness as a region of the state, he said, 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 will connect to the “middle mile” built by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute. The “middle mile” is a 1,200 mile fiber-optic network jointly funded by the state and federal stimulus money appropriated by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Combined, these are $90 million efforts to build the “backbone” of fiber-optic data transmission lines across the region and has spurred the creation of the 32-town WiredWest cooperative, which would bring similar high-speed connections to those communities.

George Drake, who served on the Leverett Broadband Committee, said decisions to move forward independent of WiredWest 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 in the Legislature are either unserved or underserved.

“You’re the first. You’re blazing a new trail here,” Kulik said.

But he cautioned that it might give people impulse to buy property in Leverett if their own towns don’t make the investment.

“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, for instance, voters agreed at annual Town Meeting, by a 417-12 vote, to spend an estimated $1.69 million to build a fiber-optic network and join the WiredWest consortium. There, residents could access the broadband, as well as cable television and improved phone service, sometime in 2017, if build-out goes as planned.

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

Nakajima said his agency has provided $666,000 toward the Leverett project, which included the 39-mile 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 being 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 observed.

Tim Wilkerson, director of economic policy for the Executive office of Housing and Economic Development, said Gov. 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 tied around the fiber-optic system’s “point of Presence” hut, located adjacent to a Leverett Highway Department building. It is one of two equipment storage buildings for the system located in town.