Petersham residents to get update on broadband

  • Broadband MLP Board Vice Chairman John Blum, left, and Chairman Chip Bull update the Petersham Selectmen and the finance committee on the town’s broadband project. File Photo

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 5/7/2019 9:45:21 PM
Modified: 5/7/2019 9:45:14 PM

PETERSHAM – An informational meeting to bring Petersham residents up to speed on the progress of bringing broadband internet service to town will be held Saturday, May 11 from 4-5 p.m. in Lower Town Hall. Members of the Broadband Municipal Light Plant Board will be joined by representatives of Matrix Design Group, Inc. of East Hanover, New Jersey, the company contracted to install the fiber optic network which will bring high-speed internet service to Petersham. Residents will also be able to see first-hand the kind of equipment that will be installed in the homes and businesses of service subscribers.

“We’ve been working on this project for nine years,” said Chip Bull, chairman of the BMLPB. “I’ve done committee work all my life, and usually once you’ve got a year into it and a couple hundred hours-worth of work you have something to show for it. But it’s taken nine years, and literally everything has kind of come together in the last year with regards to state funding and the project is at last moving forward.”

The cost of the project is pegged at approximately $2.6 million, with $880,000 coming from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute – overseen by the state Department of Housing and Community Development – and another $1.75 million invested in the system by Matrix Design. The town first had to commit to spending $880,000 of its own cash in order to demonstrate its commitment to the project before the state would agree to reimbursing the community. The agreement with the state was signed by selectmen in January.

The so-called “make ready” work on the project got under way on April 3.

“That’s the work that National Grid and Verizon have to do on our existing pole infrastructure in order to prepare for placing the fiber optic cable on the poles,” said Bull. “The town will be renting the pole from the utilities to do that. Under (Matrix Design’s) business model, it’s going to be very important that the minute they put fiber on the poles, they’re going to want to have the secondary crews following very closely behind to start connecting customers.”

According to the announcement of Saturday’s meeting, more than 1,900 utility poles were surveyed in anticipation of work getting started. Those poles will carry more than 47 miles of fiber optic cable.

Bull said in excess of 375 customers have already signed up to subscribe to the service. Those subscribers paid a $250 deposit to commit to tying into the system. According to the agreement with Matrix, standard internet service will cost subscribers $95 per month, while service that includes caller ID, call waiting, and three-way calling will cost $115.

“As people who did not make an early payment see the process actually happening and passing by their property,” said Bull, “we expect there will people kind of running out with a check saying, ‘Can I get included in this as well?’”

Bull said initial response to the project nearly a decade ago was, in many cases, tepid.

“Being a New England town with a demographic that skews somewhat on the older said,” he said, “we had our share of replies that said something to the effect, ‘Don’t have a computer, don’t plan to get one, and I don’t want to see it on my tax bill.’ Even those folks, I think, have come to realize that it has a definite economic impact on the value of their property.”

Currently, homes and businesses with tied into the internet in Petersham have had to rely either on slow-speed DSL service through Verizon or satellite services, such as HughesNet. DSL runs over copper wire.

Bull said there were some 45 communities in central and western Massachusetts classified as “under-served” when it comes to the availability of internet service. Much of the delay in finally extending service to those communities, said Bull, came from the state’s inability to hammer out a workable funding mechanism to make it economically feasible for both municipalities and vendors.

The town’s agreement with Matrix extends for 20 years, with an option for the town to either take over ownership of the system or renew its relationship with the company.

“I likely won’t be here when the current contract runs out,” said Bull, “but I can’t see the town fathers at that time deciding to own and operate the system. It’s very technical and takes a lot of expertise. In any event, it’s going to be a great benefit to this town to have the kind of service we’re getting.”

Bull said work on the network should be completed by October or November.

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