Pandemic raises demand for internet service

For Athol Daily News
Published: 5/20/2020 3:14:06 PM
Modified: 5/20/2020 3:14:19 PM

ROYALSTON – While the coronavirus has affected many aspects of daily life, one that has barely been mentioned is the increased use of the internet. While one might expect that demand to skyrocket for companies whose employees are now working from home, so too has it increased for small New England communities that are just getting their residents tied into a broadband internet system.

Town IT System Administrator Jon Hardie explained during a virtual meeting of the Broadband Committee earlier this week that such is the case for Royalston. Several years ago, the town inaugurated a pilot project in the South Village to determine the viability of wireless broadband in the town of just over 1,200 people.

“In this COVID moment,” said Hardie, “many people are forced to work from home, and the South Village is no different. We have 50 families in the South Village who are subscribers to our wireless network that we built in 2015, and it turns out that having all of those families also means having all of those people in all of those families on the internet practically 24/7.

“It’s astounding, but those 50 families have turned into 120 people who are using the network, and we’re using 18 terabytes of data, which is a thousand gigabytes. It’s a huge amount of data. And, of course, the network was designed with less demand in place.”

Hardie said the amount of data being downloaded by the South Royalston subscribers has increased 40 percent in the last month, while the amount of date uploaded increased some 240 percent. Since the system was built, the town has gradually increased the amount of bandwidth from 50 to 200 megabytes.

“Over the past month I’ve had a string of questions from people asking if I could help,” said Hardie. “So, I went to our vendor who is delivering internet to the town and I said, ‘Can we bump it up a little,’ and he offered 300 megabytes more. So, we’re now at a total of 500 megs.”

Hardie said the increase was provided at minimal cost to subscribers.

“So, we’re now operating with 500. The congestion is gone. People are now able to do their work; they’re ecstatic,” said Hardie.

“But when we look qualitatively how the network in the South Village works,” he continued, “it’s an indicator for us of what we need to plan for in the future. We need to be addressing that as part of the new project, because the demand for internet service for education, for home schooling, for work. It’s very important that the South Village, which was designed as a pilot program, continue to provide us information about how people actually use the internet and how critical it is in their lives. Right now is a perfect demonstration of how important it is and how dependent those 50 families and 120 users are on the internet.”

The town is currently negotiating a contract tiwh BLiNQ Networks of Ontario, Canada to construct a wireless network which will expand broadband service from the 50 homes in South Royalston to some 350 homes town-wide.

Greg Vine can be reached at

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