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Wendell expects broadband in Sept. ’19



For the Athol Daily News
Thursday, June 07, 2018

WENDELL — Residents will have to wait until fall of 2019 to get their high-speed internet, according to the Broadband Committee’s first update in months.

Originally, the service was estimated to go live in the summer of 2019, but the Broadband Committee is now aiming for next September.

“Progress on the Wendell broadband project is picking up speed,” reads the committee’s update. “A number of aspects of the project remain to be finalized, but at this point we have a clear idea of what information is needed in order to do so.”

Wendell’s broadband project is part of a WiredWest cooperative with nearby Shutesbury, Warwick and New Salem that will create a municipally-owned, high-speed, fiber-optic internet network.

In Wendell, the first stage of the design process, in partnership with Westfield Gas and Electric, is complete, and a strand map has been created.

The strand map details the paths the physical broadband network will take — from the central electronics hub behind the Town Offices building outward. The network passes all but three residences in town.

The strand map gives the ability to identify the utility poles — in this case, 1,460 of them — needed to hang the fiber-optic wires. The next step, according to the committee, is applying to Verizon and National Grid to do “make ready” work on the poles, creating space for additional cables.

Roughly one third of the cost of Wendell’s broadband project is covered by $730,000 from the state’s Last Mile grant program, but the Broadband Committee has also expressed that coming up with an exact, total project price has been difficult.

The state funds will be exhausted before Wendell contributes anything, and it is unknown how far the $730,000 will get Wendell through the rest of the design process, then the engineering and construction processes.

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute gave Wendell an initial, total-project estimated cost of $1.9 million in 2014.

The actual cost could end up being higher, however, due to multiple variables — for example, if any utility poles identified are unable to be modified to carry additional cables, the town will have to replace them.

Once the 2019 construction phase begins, residents will be able to buy into the project and connect to the network. However, the Broadband Committee admits it doesn’t yet know how high monthly service rates will be, or what the tax burden will be.

Residents are encouraged, in any case, to look for more updates from the Broadband Committee in coming months so that they can plan to become subscribers during the construction phase.

Any resident who misses that window, and wants to connect to the network post-construction, will have to pay significantly more to become a subscriber.

According to the Broadband Committee, post-construction hookups in nearby Leverett cost around $2,000, and residents willing to become subscribers should take advantage of the 2019 construction when crews and trucks are already in town.


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