It is hard to believe that Whip City Fiber is just north of 5 years old. In such a short time, Westfield Gas + Electric has gone from a 120+ year old classic utility business to a nearly full-fledged technology organization. With the support of and assistance from the City of Westfield and all of our customers here, Whip City Fiber is now available to over 11,000 locations in this community.
We have happy and loyal customers who appreciate supporting a locally owned, service-focused business—and they’re getting reliable first-class gigabit internet for an excellent price.
As Mr. Campbell pointed out in his Letter to the Editor published in Thursday’s paper [Oct. 1] , we cannot currently offer service to 100% of Westfield. We hear regularly from other customers who also feel as Mr. Campbell and would really like to get Whip City Fiber but are unable. This is the tough reality right now. We have a fiduciary responsibility to our ratepayers and the City to pay back the more than $17 million we’ve borrowed to cover the costs we’ve realized bringing this project to the successful place it is. But we are also committed to bringing service to the rest of Westfield when we can do it responsibly. If you perform an internet search on failed community broadband systems, you’ll read accounts of municipalities that went too far into debt financing their broadband networks and never recovered. We cannot let that happen in our own backyard. The areas which have been built were identified based on the cost to build and the level of customer interest in those areas to justify the expansion.
So, let’s talk about these hilltowns which have partnered with us to get internet service. First, we feel great that these communities, the Commonwealth, and the federal government all have such confidence in our knowledge and skills to sign us on as their project manager. We are guiding these communities through a complex and challenging maze of pole applications, contractors, and technology. Some have been waiting upwards of 12 years to finally “see the light”. For these communities which have had little to no internet access for so long, this is a lifeline. In 2020, and in a year like no other, they will be able to work and school from home for the first time.
These projects are fully funded by these towns and their customers and ultimately, the fiber network belongs to them. Unlike Westfield, each town has built the costs of their new network into their property tax base and accordingly, access is being built out to each resident. We are fortunate to have the added revenue stream of additional monthly subscribers as we become their internet service provider and network operator, without contributing to the cost of their networks.
Through our efforts providing engineering and project management services to these hilltowns, we are potentially doubling the number of customers who will financially support our future expansion in Westfield. And that, of course, is a good thing for all those who are still waiting. Before the end of the year, we’ll be adding access for new customers in the Russell Road area. Next year we hope to provide service in three or four additional neighborhoods. During the winter period we’ll be soliciting interest among those areas of Westfield that don’t have Whip City Fiber available at this time to best determine further buildouts. Expansion will move ahead in a disciplined manner, one step at a time.
We know there are many who would like it to move faster and we understand, but further growth will occur by reinvesting Whip City Fiber revenues, rather than acquiring additional debt. Our business is locally owned—and that means it is YOUR business – so we’ll continue to do our best to make the right decisions so we can eventually offer this exciting service throughout our community.
Westfield Gas & Electric/Whip City Fiber