After A Decade Of Waiting For Verizon, Town Builds Itself Gigabit Fiber For $75 Per Month

from the if-you-build-it-they-will-come dept

Like many broadband black holes, Western Massachusetts has spent years asking regional duopolies for broadband. Towns like Leverett, Mass. literally took to hanging signs around town begging Verizon to install even the slowest DSL. Of course Verizon not only refused to install Western Massachusetts, they froze deployment of effectively all FiOS fiber upgrades, leaving a large number of towns and cities (including Boston, Baltimore, Alexandria, Buffalo) without next-gen broadband — or in some cases broadband at all.

But, unlike many areas, Western Massachusetts decided to do something about it. In 2012 Leverett voters approved borrowing $3.6 million — or roughly $1,900 per resident — to deliver fiber to 800 premises. The initiative would be part of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute’s MassBroadband 123 “middle mile” network, a stimulus-funded project that spent the last few years running 1,200 miles of fiber-optic network connecting 123 communties. That project feeds the town of Leverett’s new, community owned ISP LeverettNet, giving a town that once didn’t have DSL gigabit speeds for $75 a month:

“LeverettNet currently charges $24.95 per month for an internet-only, 1 gigabit per second connection. There?s also a $49.95 monthly cost to cover the maintenance for the Leverett Municipal Light Plant (LMLP), the governmental entity that builds and operates the town?s fiber infrastructure, bringing the cost to about $75 for internet-only subscribers, a cut above Google Fiber?s $70 monthly price for its 1 gigabit service.

However, the Leverett Broadband Committee notes that the LMLP maintenance costs are divided between the number of subscribers, and could be lowered as more households subscribe, meaning it could one day reach a price that?s equal to or less than Google Fiber.”

And while most incumbent ISPs are abusing the lack of competition to raise rates in January, Leverettnet (alongside Crocker Communications, which helps run the ISP business itself) has announced it’s dropping the cost of broadband and phone services starting next month. Uptake rate has been phenomenal, with eighty-one percent of households signing up for service. And what’s more, despite all of the hand-wringing on some fronts (read: AT&T, Verizon, Comcast) about community broadband being an irresponsible fiscal nightmare, locals will actually see lower taxes than expected:

“The median residence will also see a lower-than-anticipated impact on property taxes, with $219 per year for the financing bond to build the network, much lower than the original estimate of close to $300 per year. The light plant, along with Holyoke Gas and Electric, which provides network operation and maintenance, and Crocker Communications of Greenfield, providing the high-speed Internet and phone service, collaborated to review the finances and usage and determined that the adjustments could be made.”

Granted in twenty states, your town or city wouldn’t be able to do this, since incumbent providers have quite literally paid state legislatures to write laws banning this kind of effort, even if incumbent ISPs have refused to service the area. This is also the sort of thing Presidential candidates like Marco Rubio hope to put an end to, without offering an alternative solution for broadband coverage gaps. But as Leverettnet shows, there’s an obvious role for private/public partnerships in shoring up broadband coverage gaps — especially in areas incumbent providers couldn’t care less about.

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Comments on “After A Decade Of Waiting For Verizon, Town Builds Itself Gigabit Fiber For $75 Per Month”

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59 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

'Leave it to the professionals'

But, unlike many areas, Western Massachusetts decided to do something about it. In 2012 Leverett voters approved borrowing $3.6 million — or roughly $1,900 per resident — to deliver fiber to 800 premises. The initiative would be part of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute’s MassBroadband 123 “middle mile” network, a stimulus-funded project that spent the last few years running 1,200 miles of fiber-optic network connecting 123 communties.

Meanwhile the larger cable companies insist that they need ‘incentives’, either directly or indirectly, in amounts that make $3.6 million look like pocket change, take years spending the incentives on exec bonsus, fail to deliver as a result, and then buy off the right people so that they’re let off the hook for failing to meet the contract terms.

Yup, can’t possibly imagine why the major cable companies might be worried about smaller operations like this given the notable difference in cost and build-out speed…

Richard from Leverett (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Leave it to the professionals'

Man you don’t know Leverett or Western Massachusetts very well.

Leverett voter passed the Municipal Lighting Plant and bond issue by well over 90% margin and there is no interest by either Verizon or Comcast in serving Leverett. We run town with the town meeting system of government there are no politicians for Verizon and Comcast to buy. Also Comcast does not do business in Leverett and never has and Verizon has essentially abandoned their land lines in town and doesn’t provide cell service.

JohnK (profile) says:

Re: 'Leave it to the professionals'

Leverett is fortunate to have had the skills in an all-volunteer committee to make this happen. It is a testament to the self-reliance of small town New England. It is a model for moving forward but it is not an easy or short road in MA. http://leverett.ma.us/content/broadband-committee Presently there are more than two dozen other towns trying to follow their lead in one form or another.

Some more detail on Leverett: Leverett turned on its fiber last Spring and is providing service for all its customers. The data service is not throttled but depends on backhaul limits coming into town. It is a FTTH Active Ethernet P2P system with a fiber homerun from the premise to the hub. Their ultimate bandwidth is determined by the fiscal limits. As of Summer 2015, Leverett had a take rate of 89%, getting to that level in less than a year.

The Reinvestment Act, funded by the feds and the state, did great 2 things for unserved Western and Central MA towns including Leverett: 1) provided a backbone to the Internet, in this case, in Springfield MA, and 2) provided middle-mile backhaul, 4-8 fibers, to one or more Community access points in each of the 45 unserved towns. Leveret’s network would have been much more difficult logistically and more expensive without that. Then, Leverett took it upon itself to fund a a network build.

MBI, the state agency cited above, has been funded to assist these 45 towns with partial grants. I do not believe that Leverett has yet seen much if any of that money. The money allocated for them, when they receive it in full, would amount to only about 1/3 of the total cost for the build. http://broadband.masstech.org/building-networks/last-mile/program-unserved-towns The difficulty is that many of these small towns do not have the wealth or income to afford the remaining cost. Leverett has about 42 miles of roads and a little more than 800 premises and is one of the larger towns being helped by the Commonwealth. It had no internet other than dial-up, some satellite and some cell service. Cell access in town was spotty and wireline copper phone service often had noise on the line in inclement weather. This is typical of the other 44 towns interested in participating in the MBI project/funding. ( I add this as most folks do not consider MA as being at all rural and remote.) But Leverett’s multi-million dollar investment, even after help from the state, will bring its citizens into a telecomm environment that most in our country take for granted.

Anonymous Coward says:

Housing Prices

I bet if you track the housing prices in this town compared to comparable non-fiber towns in the area, you’ll see a significant increase over the next couple of years. Having gigabit fiber in a town is going to make it a lot more desirable to many home buyers, especially young cord cutters. And unlike most cord cutters, they will actually be able to be disconnected from the cable and telecom conglomerates.

Anonymous Coward says:

…w$219 per year for the financing bond to build the network…Granted…your town or city wouldn’t be able to do this, since incumbent providers have quite literally paid state legislatures to write laws banning this kind of effort…

I don’t know if my area is one of those with state laws but I do know it’s a chore getting any bond election passed. If the locals won’t support bonds for building and/or improving our schools, police & fire stations, and streets, then it’s hard to imagine them voting in a bond for fiber.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I suspect there are a lot of small towns with a lot of older residents who couldn’t care less about fast internet. A couple hundred extra dollars in property taxes for something they don’t understand the benefit of doesn’t sound like a good idea to them. Again, I’m just speculating, I don’t have numbers.

Magical Mimi says:

As someone who lives in an almost as badly served Western MA town (i.e. a town slightly to the west and farther south where Verizon offers a 1 Mbps DSL connection and rarely even delivers half that speed, and Comcast claims to offer service, but only to homes where you either have an 30+ year old barely maintained connection, or pay an insanely high ‘last mile’ fee for a new connection that’s kept some VERY expensive brand new houses from even getting connected) , all I gotta say is ‘You go Leverett!’ Especially due to how certain factors were moving against this even happening for them.

What isn’t mentioned in this story is how the local media covered this in the early stages (and barely) and once Comcast and Verizon started trying to push back/bully the town (or so someone who lives in the town told me) in an effort to stop this, any and all local media coverage up and vanished from anything but the most local newspaper to that town. I.E. the TV stations talked about it in the very early stages, Big Cable (according to my friend) started to push back against the town, and the TV stations went up and quiet on the whole thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Service

That’s how it was at my last place with the DSL – when it rained, the line was unusable. You call and complain, and they send a technician… a week later while it’s not raining, and they find nothing. After nearly ten years of technician tag, they FINALLY showed up (by accident) one time when it was raining and actually found the problem. Then I moved a couple months later. Siiiiiiiiigh.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Service

After nearly ten years of technician tag, they FINALLY showed up (by accident) one time when it was raining and actually found the problem.

When I ran a BBS, I had the same problem, but what was funny was the technician was the one who suggested that it may have been the rain, and that he moved me to a higher place in the telephone cabinet. My phone line after he moved my connection had never been cleaner, and I was easily pushing 48-56kbps on that line. At least until AT&T started calling me with offers for a special “digital” phone line that they were offering for folks running BBSs, modems, etc., on their networks, and I all-the-sudden ended up back at the bottom of the rack (I asked the technician where I was and he told me I was at the bottom, even though the previous technician had moved me up.)

My issues with AT&T and their digital line scam have been discussed here before. I only got relief when I switched from their service to cable telephone (shortly before abandoning my BBS in the mid to late 90s due to nobody calling any more.)

TechDescartes (profile) says:

The Power of Taxes

This headline (and the town’s statement) ‘s misleading:

After A Decade Of Waiting For Verizon, Town Builds Itself Gigabit Fiber For $75 Per Month

The monthly cost is much more:

(1) $24.95 per month connection fee
(2) $49.95 per month maintenance fee
(3) $18.25 per month in increased taxes ($219 annually)

Total Cost: $93.15, and that is before you acknowledge the $4.28 per month subsidy from non-subscribers (152 premises (19%) paying $219 in annual taxes for a service they do not use). Actual Total Cost: $97.43

It is hard to evaluate the merits of an idea when the math is bad.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: The Power of Taxes

People tend not to take into account property tax increases since just about anything can affect them. Build a park down the road, property tax goes up. Put in a back deck, property tax goes up.

We had to fight that not all that long ago here. Nothing changed and our property tax went up.

Still, I’d pay $94/m for gigabit connectivity. I’m paying almost that now for 50Mbps.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Power of Taxes

People tend not to take into account property tax increases since just about anything can affect them. Build a park down the road, property tax goes up. Put in a back deck, property tax goes up.

Schools tend to be the big thing around here…they account for quite a bit of our property tax, and every new bond or property tax increase that seems to get put in place tends to be one of those “its for the children bonds”.

I don’t have children, can’t stand a good majority of them in my neighborhood, but I gladly pay those property taxes each year. I’d much rather pay for your kids to get the best education possible so that they get good jobs and make something of themselves. Keeps my property values up.

So long as everyone in the community has the option to subscribe, just like I have the option to have kids and send them to school, I’ll gladly subsidize it so long as it has positive benefits to the community. What I have a problem with is when some politician somewhere decides that it would be great to build a park nobody in the community can go to except their buddies that elected them or when the money is wasted needlessly on something nobody wants or needs just to make the backers of the politicians happy. If they had a referendum, and a majority of the folks said yes, I’m good with it.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: The Power of Taxes

Let’s round up to $100 to make things easy. Say we do that, the article is off by $25. Now, how does that $100 per month compare to what they had available previously, and at what cost? Assuming that they even had a comparable option?

Because given the first paragraph of the article, I’m guessing the previous options all make $100 a month for that speed look like an amazing deal.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Power of Taxes

Because given the first paragraph of the article, I’m guessing the previous options all make $100 a month for that speed look like an amazing deal.

If we are talking about true costs, including all the taxes, how much money has been spent on the Information Superhighway, or Broadband America, or Wiring America or Universal Access that we’ve been paying over the years to the telcos and the cable industry, in which the money was collected and then “lost” without actually doing the work. We’ve been paying for broadband improvements since 1995, and telephone improvements even longer and we’ve got very little to show for it (at least until Google showed up and scared the industry and government into actually improving their networks and regulating those who didn’t.)

I’d love to see an accounting of the money spent there, to include in the costs of the legacy telecom and cable industry, but quite frankly I don’t think we’ll ever get those numbers.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: The Power of Taxes

Well, suppose I’m paying that much for some park I don’t use, because I don’t like parks. Even so I would gladly pay because it improves life overall. This is thinking collectively because at some point I’ll have the opportunity of having Gb connection but some other person won’t want but they will support the cause because it improves life overall.

So, yeah, we don’t live alone.

New Mexico Mark says:

Re: The Power of Taxes

While I appreciate accurate math, you are definitely focusing on the trees and missing the forest entirely. I’m not sure if you are just an industry shill, but I’ll respond as if you are actually a real person.

If you want to do even better math, don’t forget to subtract $80 – $150/month for cutting the cord of cable or satellite TV, landline phone service, etc. and replacing these with Internet options that will work just fine with gigabit Internet. There may be other opportunities in lowering cellular service options and better utilizing home that bandwidth at home. Think things like telecommuting, which can save a great deal in travel / vehicle expenses, remote medical monitoring / diagnostics, remote education, etc. These things can save many thousands of dollars, but require realistic broadband services to make them feasible. (As someone stuck with TWC 30Mb down / 5 Mb up for over $65/month, I’m drooling at the thought of this kind of service.)

To put gigabit service in perspective, someone with kind of bandwidth has 50 times more bandwidth than what is defined as 20 Mb/s “broadband” service, and that minimum service would likely cost around $50 per month if the local monopoly even deigned to make it available. That’s $2,500 per month collected from every 50 bottom-of-the-barrel endpoints by large “service providers”.

Gigabit service can replace a lot of other data services, and make possible many other services and business opportunities, and even assuming $100/month/endpoint, this is dirt cheap compared to other options. As for non-customers paying a small fee for this infrastructure upgrade, what can I say? They will probably more than make up for this in increased property value, plus when they start seeing what their neighbors are able to do with gigabit service, they will likely jump on this opportunity as well (lowering prices even further).

It’s hard to evaluate the merits of an idea when the math is penny wise and pound foolish.

TechDescartes (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Power of Taxes

While I appreciate accurate math, you are definitely focusing on the trees and missing the forest entirely. I’m not sure if you are just an industry shill, but I’ll respond as if you are actually a real person.

Actually, no. Imagine the same discrepancy on the bandwidth side. If you were promised 1 Gbps but never received more than 750 Mbps, that certainly would be relevant to discussing the merits. $100 versus $75 per month is proportionally the same discrepancy. Granted, it might not be decisive (as evidenced by many commenters responding that $100 is not too much), but you can’t deny that it is relevant.

P.S. Out of curiosity, which industry is it that sends out “shills” to point out the true cost of services? Last I checked, it wasn’t telecom or government.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The Power of Taxes

Techdirt has, in the past, found IP addresses from various law firms defending things like patents. Also Wikipedia has been known to be edited by people with IP addresses that link back to the corporation being discussed. So shills do exist and they do frequent forums. Oh, and they lie about it too.

TechDescartes (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 The Power of Taxes

I deliberately avoided any mention of the merits and merely used the numbers from Karl’s article (800 premises with 81% adoption rate (conversely, 19% non-adoption rate), $24.95 connection fee, $49.95 maintenance fee, $219 annual taxes):

In 2012 Leverett voters approved borrowing $3.6 million — or roughly $1,900 per resident — to deliver fiber to 800 premises… . “LeverettNet currently charges $24.95 per month for an internet-only, 1 gigabit per second connection. There’s also a $49.95 monthly cost to cover the maintenance for the Leverett Municipal Light Plant…The median residence will also see a lower-than-anticipated impact on property taxes, with $219 per year for the financing bond to build the network, much lower than the original estimate of close to $300 per year.”

It’s just math.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The Power of Taxes

Again, if the service works and it benefits the community as a whole as he pointed out then the extra tax does not matter. Besides considering what I pay today for my 50 mbit connection $100 would still be dirty cheap. To put it to perspective a 1Gb plan here costs about $350 to install plus $250 monthly. We don’t know the details but maybe there are slower offerings for those that don’t need this much, no? Taxes paid for this are a non issue.

Not to mention that cities with good connections tend to attract technology companies or those who don’t need a physical presence elsewhere to do their business. How much value does this add to the city?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The Power of Taxes

Also lets not forget that this price is in an area that regular ISPs don’t serve because it’s more expensive and less profitable to serve these areas than the areas that ISP’s do serve. So even in less profitable areas that regular ISPs refuse to serve an alternative method can provide better bandwidth cheaper than what ISPs charge in more profitable, cheaper to serve, areas.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The Power of Taxes

Though exact dollar amounts are nice, they really aren’t necessary for this discussion.

I went to UMass Amherst and Leverett was the next town over. Quite a few professors I knew (including Computer Science profs) had homes in Leverett and were just befuddled that they couldn’t get anything better than dial-up out there (especially with the University so close).

When there is no choice, cost really isn’t a major factor until it becomes ‘insanely expensive’.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The Power of Taxes

Actually, no.

New Mexico Mark isn’t disagreeing with your math, he’s saying there are larger issues that make the discrepancy you point out less significant. There will be an extra 20 bucks a month in property tax until the bond is paid off, and it’s appropriate to mention that. But if you’re going to look at that, it makes sense to look at all the other factors too.

Malor (profile) says:

Re: The Power of Taxes

$95/mo for gigabit Internet isn’t quite as cheap as Google Fiber or EPB, but if they follow the path that EPB did, the cost will steadily drop over time, especially if they can keep expanding and adding more customers; bandwidth gets cheaper the more of it you buy.

And by the standards of nearly everywhere else in the country, that is an amazing deal. I’m lucky, and get gigabit for $70, but if I weren’t, it’s not like $95 would upset me.

When I first moved here, it was $150/mo for 250MBit, so EPB has been absolutely fantastic. They quadrupled my speed, and cut my bill in half.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Funny how that works isn’t it?

Before there’s competition in the area:

“It would not be feasible to upgrade our existing networks without drastically increasing price, as well as taking several years to manage. By the way, here’s your biannual price increase.”

The second actual competition shows up:

“Hey, turns out we were wrong, we can absolutely increase your connection speed, immediately, and temporarily decrease the price, so there’s no need to go elsewhere for your service!”

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Funny how that works isn’t it?

What is sad is that when companies fight the government and each other to buy up their competition, people still parrot the line “bigger company means better support.” You know what they say about insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Every time I hear it, I have a Pavlovian response and roll my eyes even before they finish the statement. A friend was talking about how awesome it will be when AT&T owns Direct-TV, and how he will have better support from both AT&T and Direct-TV as a result, and I could just count the minutes between that statement and his overall disgust for the whole thing…he figured once he got AT&T to hook up his house with fiber, he was set…their immediate response…not available in your area, you get 1mbps DSL. Best they could offer him was a capped LTE network.

Malor (profile) says:

>Uptake rate has been phenomenal, with eighty-one percent of households signing up for service.

That’s REALLY impressive. EPB in Chattanooga, which offers similar service for a similar price (and is run EXTREMELY well), was pleased as punch when they hit 30% uptake. And they had to advertise *constantly*. Even now, just about six years after their first rollout, they still advertise all the time. (I don’t know what their current figures are, but I suspect it must be at least 40% by now.)

This was their actual plan; I believe they figured it as breakeven at 20%, and hit that fairly quickly. Everything after that has been gravy, and it’s working out real well.

It’s interesting, wandering around Chattanooga with a laptop, because it’s quite normal to have extremely high-quality free WiFi networks available. It’s a slow process, but the Internet is becoming omnipresent here, like air. There’s a fundamental scarcity most places, and that’s not really true here anymore.

Anyway, my biggest takeaway was this: just building the network is normally not enough. You’ve also got to remind people you exist *all the time*. Switching away from other providers is difficult, and most people don’t realize how bad their Internet is.

An 81% uptake is … dayam. Things must have been BAD in Leverett.

Oh, and as an aside: muni fiber from the power company works out really well. Their purpose isn’t pricing as high as possible, their purpose is serving their residents, so they can pass through the *real* pricing of bandwidth. The only scarcity is peak demand, not total usage. Bandwidth caps are a literal racket.

Richard from Leverett (profile) says:

Leverettnet

Heere is the real deal in Leverett

Leverett had a few Verizon DSL lines close to Amherst MA. Verizon is abandoning DSL and had no intention of extending fios to Leverett.
Comcast never served Leverett and had no interest in doing so because of the distance between houses.

Internet was available for Wild Blue and Hughes but you know how lousy that service is. TV was from Dish and DirecTV. So with the ~$100 a month for Leverettnet and the increase in property taxes I am saving approximately $150 to $200 a month for far better service. Even with the taxes. Remember We operate this network at cost as a town service and in 20 years the bonds will be paid off. We have maintenance and periodic upgrades built into the cost of service.

Verizon could not care less about this because they were not maintaining the legacy copper network in Leveret and now 81% of their complaining unhappy customers are off their back.

Of the other 19% of non subscribers more the 50% of these are either summer residences or vacant and up for sale.

Of the remaining house: In a town with Leverett’s demographics houses come on the market do to owners passing away. So houses are vacant for extended periods while the estate gets settled. A lot of empty houses are being renovated in town to be placed on the market because high speed broadband make it worth doing.

So what’s not to like?

tmc (profile) says:

wildfire

I hope more towns and cities throw Verizon out on their ass for not deploying FIOS! Once its gone, it’s gone.. Don’t think Verizon can come back in, corner the market and then jack up rates! Once a municipality has to build it themselves.. that market is more or less LOCKED down, unless google wanted to deploy there too.. but in all likelihood, if the customers aren’t getting ripjacked like $300 for 500/500 internet currently advertised by Verizon.. they’re WAY ahead of the game for YEARS to come!!!

So, hope it catches on like wildfire!

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