City signs broadband contract

 WESTFIELD – The city has signed a contract with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) to participate in the Massbroadband 123 project by extending fiber optic capability in the city.
MBI is administering the Massbroadband project to build over 1,100 miles of fiber optic cable to provide service to unserved and underserved communities in western Massachusetts. The project is funded through a $45.4 million stimulus grant and $26.2 million in matching funds from the state.
The federal stimulus money was awarded to MBI through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program with a goal to provide broadband infrastructure to foster economic growth, and improve healthcare, education and public safety.
“The WG&E will have to begin ramping up to hang the fiber optic cable because we are under time constraints,” WG&E General Manager Dan Howard said last night to the Municipal Light Board. “We have very little (financial) exposure and when the system is up and running will reap benefits of lower costs for services.”
Howard said that the utility will fund $700,000 for construction efforts, but will be reimbursed those costs after completion of the work performed by the department by the MBI.
The Massbroadband 123 Project extends the backbone system throughout the western area of the state, using state and federal funding to install the “middle mile” of publicly-owned broadband fiber optic and positions private, “last-mile” service providers to complete that extension of the system to 333,500 households and 44,000 business in a third of the state where high-speed communications is not currently available, The project will also connect 1,392 anchor institutions such as community colleges, libraries, schools and public safety facilities.
“Westfield is the gateway to the Hilltowns, so this had to come through the city,” Howard said. “We could have decided not to participate and they would have just done it themselves, so we jumped on it because it’s mutually beneficial to both interests.”
Howard said that initially four municipal utilities, Westfield, Holyoke, Chicopee and Russell were considering a joint agreement with the MBI, but found that the specific interests varied sufficiently and declined to pursue individual agreements.
Westfield is seeking to become a participating service provider on the Massbroadband system and will have full access to all wholesale products available from MBI through the system operator, Axia NGNetworks USA. That will enable the local utility to leverage those products that include a substantially lower Internet backbone fee to retain existing customers and to expand its broadband retail business.

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