WG+E and Whip City Fiber looking towards spring

Tony Contrino, General Manager of Westfield Gas+Electric and Whip City Fiber.

By Tony Contrino

WG+E, Whip City Fiber general manager

Westfield Gas + Electric/Whip City Fiber has been incredibly fortunate to move into this year having successfully weathered so many challenges in 2020. We’re nearly two months into 2021 and change is happening all around us. Although there is still snow on the ground, we know that spring is just around the corner. The Municipal Light Board is in the process of confirming a new General Manager. Our Electric and Gas Divisions are steadfastly preparing for the upcoming construction season. The Whip City Fiber group is preparing for continued expansion into new areas within Westfield. Together we move forward.

Whip City Fiber is reaching its 5-year anniversary with service available to roughly 75% of Westfield residences. At a time when internet is so important for work, school, and health, during these distanced and somewhat disconnected times, we are honored to be able to provide such critical access to so many. We are also proud of the positive feedback we get from customers every day for our customer service, tech support, and installation teams.

Understandably, Westfield residents who live where Whip City Fiber is not yet available would like to know when it will be their turn. The WG+E/WCF team is weighing the many variables which come into play and drawing up a multi-year plan. We take our responsibility for your locally owned services very seriously and make every decision with a commitment to follow best business practices. Cost to build, potential revenue, level of interest in each area and, of course, available funding all come into play. This information is reviewed and analyzed as we plan the next best areas for expansion and, while exciting, it certainly always leads to hard choices. As you can imagine, everyone would like to be first on the schedule and we wish we could please everyone. Rest assured, we are expecting to have service available in several new areas this year and each year to follow.

There are some steps interested customers can take right now to help our planning process. Because some of our customers completed their applications years ago when WCF was in its infancy, we want to refresh the data we have on hand. We will be reaching out via email to past applicants to confirm they’re still interested in becoming a Whip City Fiber customer. If you receive this email, please confirm your intention to keep your application for WCF service in queue with a simple click. For those who have never applied (or maybe are not sure), this is a great time to submit an application for their address at www.whipcityfiber.com. Talk with your neighbors and make sure they have an active application on file too. Every application is important as we evaluate the potential for expansion into each area.

In the end, our planning and hard work is part of our overall effort to enhance our local community here in Westfield. We have many happy customers supporting this community effort in the parts of the city which have service available, but there are also many residents in these areas who have been slower to make the switch. If you have service, have you told a friend about the benefits of WCF’s speed and service when you’re working or schooling from home? Right now there are extra incentives to encourage your neighbors to sign up. WCF customers who display a

lawn sign will receive a $10 credit and this can be earned up to four times per year. Better yet, refer a friend for their first free month of service and you’ll get a $25 credit when they connect. As our marketing team says, “friends don’t let friends have bad internet.”

And let’s quickly talk about the hilltowns which have partnered with us for internet service. We realize some may still not be clear on our reasoning for doing so. These communities are fully funding their own fiber networks and WCF is not providing any funding for these town-owned buildouts. Instead, these towns pay WCF for our expertise with project management as we oversee the engineering, design and outside contractors hired to build their system. Furthermore and most importantly, these hilltown communities generate ongoing monthly revenue for WCF by contracting with us for internet service. This additional revenue, resulting from a much larger customer base, will provide greater economies of scale and allow us to continue building to every corner of Westfield much more quickly than would have ever been the case without these additional hilltown customers, many of whom had absolutely no option for internet connectivity before.

So, that’s where we stand today. These are exciting times. As I mentioned earlier, part of the change that’s coming will be a new General Manager taking over the helm at WG+E/WCF in a few weeks. We are so pleased that our Municipal Light Board has selected Thomas Flaherty Sr. to take the helm following my departure on March 19th. As I step away after more than 20 years on the job here, I am so very thankful for the honor and priviledge of serving our customers and the local community for such a long period, and also for having the good fortune to work alongside so many talented and dedicated people. Through our collective efforts, WG+E has accomplished so very much over the last two decades and stands out amongst other municipal light plants, not only across the state but across the nation as well. Westfield truly has a jewel in WG+E/WCF, and I’m humbled and blessed to have been a small part of our success. I wish Tom the best and have no doubt he and this organization will continue to provide the highest level of service to the citizens of Westfield, as has been done throughout its history.

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