SOUTHWICK- The High Speed Internet Committee has put out a survey for residents to gauge the interest in a municipal internet service provider as an alternative to the existing private provider in the town.
The survey, which will remain open until March, asks residents questions about what company they have their internet through, what they are typically using the internet for, and how satisfied they are with their current internet.
Selectman Douglas Moglin said that he hopes to see the Town of Southwick construct a municipal provider and treat it as a utility in the same way as electricity and water.
“We have received a lot of pushback over the years from people saying that they only have Comcast as an option,” said Moglin, “Comcast is getting more expensive while nearby Westfield has Whip City Fiber and it is both faster and cheaper.”
He noted that there is an active effort to figure out the logistics of starting a municipal internet service provider, but that it is not a simple task. Southwick has no municipal utilities so the town is not allowed to hang more cables on the telephone poles.
“Southwick would have to start an active utility like Westfield Gas & Electric to have the right to hang things on the poles,” said Moglin.
Southwick has been in communication with Westfield Gas & Electric about how they could go about becoming a provider and what kind of customer base Whip City Fiber has been able to bring in. Moglin said that the “take rate,” which is the percentage of people who choose Whip City in neighborhoods where it is available, looked impressive in a neighborhood that was also served by Comcast.
“At the price that they’re offering with the performance they’re getting, it’s better than Comcast,” said Moglin.
The committee has also been considering what kind of infrastructure would be the best fit for the town should a provider be built. Broadband may be an option, but committee members are unsure if the newer 5G internet would render broadband obsolete.
After completing the survey, residents will be given the option of sending in their information so that there is an active list of interested customers in the event that a municipal provider is developed.
Moglin said that the current thought is that Southwick would not be a provider the way Whip City Fiber is run in Westfield. Rather, they would have a contract for the system’s operation much like how Whip City does with approximately 20 other communities in the area.
Moglin said that it is time for people to begin treating internet the way they do water, electricity, and heat.
“One hundred fifty years ago if you wanted electricity, you made it yourself. If you needed water, you drilled a well,” said Moglin, “Then towns started bringing electricity and water directly to people’s homes. Internet has become a utility in the sense that you need it. It is becoming an economic factor for where people choose to live, and education is a part of it too.”
Moglin recounted stories he has heard where families in nearby rural communities have had to sit in their car right outside of a library to use their Wi-Fi for work and homework.
He added that it is unlikely that the disussion of municipal internet will take place during the upcoming annual town meeting. It is more likely that it will be brought to voters at the 2021 town meeting.