Significant Step Towards Matrix Plan Reached

Formula One World Championship

Ladies and gentlemen of Princeton. Start your engines. 

An important milestone was reached tonight in the effort to bring high-speed broadband to Princeton. In tonight’s Princeton Broadband MLP meeting, the directors signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Matrix/Millennium for the purposes of negotiating an agreement between the MLP and Matrix Design Group for the design, financing, and construction of a fiber-to-the-home network within Princeton.  While the MOU is not the final contract to do the network construction, it is a significant step towards that end. (To use a relationship analogy, Princeton entered the “dating stage” with Matrix.)

In this proposed “public/private” venture, Matrix is agreeing to fund the entire cost of building the fiber network throughout the town. But, for our part in this proposed partnership, Princeton would be responsible for ensuring that the town infrastructure is ready for Matrix to do the buildout. In order to do this, there are necessary “make ready” costs that the town needs to pay to get all of the utility poles in proper condition as well as fund other start up costs (police details, etc.).

That’s why, with the MOU signed, the Princeton Broadband MLP recommended to the town Select Board to hold a special town meeting on November 18 at 7pm (at Thomas Prince) for the purpose of voting to borrow funds for “make ready” costs. The Select Board unanimously approved this recommendation.

In order to borrow the funds for make ready, 66% of the voters must approve this proposal. If that vote passes, then broadband will come to our town. An agreement will then be negotiated with Matrix to make this plan a reality.

With all of this news, there are surely many questions that come to mind, such as:

  • How much are the make ready costs?
  • How long will it take for Matrix Design Group to build the network?
  • When can I signup?
  • How much would a monthly subscription cost?
  • Do we have a chance to state funding to pay for some of the make ready costs?

That’s why we will be holding two informational meetings in November (specifics to follow) to provide complete details on the “private/public” plan with Matrix Design Group, make ready costs, subscriber plans, and more. On princetonbroadband.com, we will also provide all of the details you will need to make a fully informed decision on November 18.

So, start your broadband engines! Get ready to get informed and get involved. Most important, make sure you do your part in the coming weeks so that together we can, once and for all, bring high-speed broadband to our town.

Vroooom…. 

Broadband Push by Wired West Hitting Outskirts

I get calls every week about this. It’s long overdue. Sadly, the private sector, the Comcasts, the Verizons, won’t help us. But that’s fine. We’ll get this done.

- State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli

Princeton is a member community of Wired West, a partnership of 44 Massachusetts town designed to bring high-speed broadband to their respective communities.   Here’s a recent update from the Berkshire Eagle on Wired West efforts to receive state funding:

A group representing residents is fanning out across rural Western Massachusetts to begin the final leg in efforts to bring high-speed Internet to unserved and underserved communities. Wired West, a partnership composed of 44 member communities, met recently to hammer out a more coordinated strategy, according to Monica Webb, of Monterey, chairwoman of the group. These communities hail from Berkshire, Hampshire, Hampden, Franklin and Worcester counties.

At a meeting at the Statehouse, hosted by state Sen. Stan C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, legislators met with representatives from the Franklin County Council of Governments (FRCOG), the Massachusetts Broadband Initiative (MBI) and WiredWest to discuss the next phase of the project. The discussion, according to Webb, yielded a comprehensive plan, cost estimates and timetable for connecting residential customers in each town. The plan will begin with regional meetings to share information and data with residents and local officials, while feedback is gathered and options are evaluated. Webb explained that the three entities have agreed to convene in working groups on a weekly schedule to accelerate planning and deployment.”This will put us on track to meet with town selectboards this fall to provide updates and relay more details on town financial participation,” she said.

Read the full Berkshire Eagle article  »

Late September Update: We’re Getting Close

A September 2014 newsletter is available for download that gets you up to date on the latest developments in bringing high-speed broadband to the town of Princeton. It discusses:

  • Current status of the Matrix/Millennium proposal
  • Overview of “make-ready” work that is required to build out a fiber network in town
  • Update on possible state funding
  • What you can do

Download the September Newsletter (.pdf) »

Progress Update: Pole Audit Begins

Contract signed to conduct pole audit moves broadband installation to next level

Following approval from the board of selectmen, Princeton has finalized and signed an agreement with Linx Associates to conduct the engineering study necessary to estimating costs to prepare the town’s utility poles for the installation of the proposed high-speed fiber optic network. Voters at the 2014 annual town meeting approved the funds to cover project expenses, estimated at $6970.

Fieldwork for the project will be conducted by a representative from Linx assisted by a representative of the Princeton Municipal Light Department. Work is expected to begin immediately with a final report due September 30.

Princeton Broadband, the newly formed municipal light plant (MLP), is currently determining an exact figure of all final costs to meet the installation requirements established by Matrix/Millennium, the company that has presented a proposal to bring Internet access into Princeton homes at no taxpayer expense.

While the contract to begin the network installation is still unsigned, the proposal has been reviewed and amended by legal counsel in preparation for an approval by the MLP. Final contract approval will occur after a special town meeting is held later this fall to approve borrowing funds to cover the town’s portion of “make ready’” costs.

Princeton is one of 47 Massachusetts towns eligible for a portion of $45 million allocated for ‘last mile’ network construction. Funding formulas are currently being reviewed and awaiting release pending the anticipated approval of Gov. Deval Patrick in late 2014.

Podcast Discusses the Town of Leverett’s Efforts to Build Fiber Network

As we have discussed before on this site, the town of Leverett, MA is in the middle of building out a fiber network to its entire community. Leverett’s experience can serve as a good reference for Princeton in terms of what is working and what could be improved as we plan and structure our network build out.  Episode 113 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast features an interview with Leverett Select Board member Peter d’Errico. In it, Peter discusses the town’s need for a fiber solution, the role of the “municipal light plant” law, and the structure of the financing and prices for subscribers. In addition to downloading the podcast, you can alternatively read the full transcript.

Click here for additional details »

What’s Up with Princeton Broadband? A Progress Report

keep-calm-and-check-progress-5The Princeton Broadband Committee kept on pace with several objectives during the summer months, meeting regularly to assure its aggressive agenda moves forward on several fronts. Here’s a brief update:

Matrix/Millennium Proposal

In June the committee voted to forward an amended version of the Memo of Understanding with Matrix/Millennium to the newly formed Princeton Broadband MLP whose members are now responsible for approving the contract. The MLP was successful in obtaining legal counsel to review specifics of the contract on behalf of the town of Princeton. As a result, the agreement was deemed satisfactory by our attorney who also reported to us that we are not required by law to solicit bids from other installers/contractors for the project. Building the actual network infrastructure as proposed would be done with private versus public funding. Use of public funding would have required the public bidding process and potentially added many months to the decision-making timetable. Note, Princeton Broadband MLP has taken no action on the Matrix/Millennium proposal to date – there are additional legal considerations being addressed.

Possible State Funding

The committee regularly monitored progress of a major technology bill (H.3770), which has passed legislative hurdles in August and was signed by Gov. Duvall Patrick. A portion of the bill allocates $45 million to Massachusetts Broadband Institute to cover “last mile” expenses to assist the state’s “unserved” communities, which includes Princeton. The committee is actively participating in lobbying activities currently underway to determine how those funds will be fairly distributed. In fact, we have recently began a strategy to better engage our elected officials in Boston and are pleased with the strong levels of support initially received from those who represent us in the State House.

Wired West Membership

We moved forward our application process with Wired West, which was officially approved and accepted at their September meeting. Membership with Wired West is a significant boost in our efforts to secure our share of funding when the MBI monies are distributed this fall.

ISP Pricing Models

The committee spent time exploring ISP pricing structures and continues work in that regard to assure that residents get the best value at the best service. As a source of comparison, the town of Leverett, MA (who is in the process of building their own network), recently released service and pricing information. You can view their pricing structure here.

Possible FCC Funding

We identified another source of potential financial assistance with the announcement of $100 million in grant money available from the FCC for their Experiments in Rural Broadband program. Our population density and lack of existing broadband make us eligible to apply for funds no greater than $750,000. An application is due in October.

* * * * *

The Fall months should bring us closer to our goal of bringing high-speed fiber optic Internet into Princeton homes. Several legal and regulatory hurdles are now behind us and news regarding state funding allocations is coming soon. We will continue to update you as we make more progress.

 

Fiber Optic is the Best Option in Meeting Princeton’s Broadband Needs

In an op-ed piece entitled “Better options for wireless than ‘faster horses” published in the July 17 Landmark, the writer, a concerned Princeton resident, makes the analogy that deploying a fiber optic network in town is like getting a faster horse and that a ‘wireless white space’ solution is like the innovation of Henry Ford’s first automobile. It should come as no news that the question of ‘wireless’ vs. ‘wired’ has been tried before in Princeton and the ‘wireless’ path has proven to have significant issues in both the performance and costs.

Using ‘white space’ is not the solution

Newly available ‘white space’ radio spectrum that has been relinquished by TV broadcasters, does not significantly address the bandwidth, geographical or political challenges that doomed our existing wireless network launched a few ago known by the municipal light department. The FCC estimates that there are between 12 and 32 ‘white space’ channels freed up in our region, each of which could provide up to 20Mbps of bandwidth. All of these channels are shared with our neighbors in Holden, Sterling and elsewhere. Assuming the unlikely case that we could abscond with all of these ‘white space’ channels, that would allow all 1250 premises in town a bit less than 2Mbps, which still does not mean the definition of high-speed broadband, and an increase of only 1Mbps over the existing wireless network. It means we will once again have a wireless network that is great for sending and receiving emails and little else.

Additionally, the FCC announced it plans to auction ‘white space’ wireless spectrum to existing cellular providers, indicating this spectrum would not at all be available for Princeton’s use.

An advantage of white space design is that it is not strictly line of sight wireless. There is some refraction over geological obstacles, but the severe hills and valleys in Princeton would require multiple sources to assure connectivity for all, a configuration not unlike that of those tall poles we see around town. Connecting each of these poles to a source sufficient to use the wireless bandwidth would require infrastructure of significant cost, probably fiber optic cable. And although Carlson Wireless, the company cited by the author of the letter, has an interesting and innovative product, it does not seem to solve the central problem Princeton is facing, and, according to its own website, is currently working on devices that “are far, far from ready” for prime time.

Why a single bidder?

The writer mentions that there is only one bidder in the plan to bring ‘wired’ Internet to Princeton. He is correct, there is only one corporate entity that came to the town unrequested with a proposal backed by $3.7 million of their corporate money to build a lease-to-own network. Yes, Matrix/Millenium will put up $3.7 million of material, engineering and labor in exchange for a construction royalty of $25/subscriber for 20 years. Subscribers will pay for the network over time as part of their monthly bill and the town will own it at the end of that term. The fixes to the town’s poles and licensing right of way will still need to be paid for by taxpayers, as would have been the case in the suggested white space deployment but to a lesser extent.

Concerned citizens who attend the 2014 town meeting will recall there was a discussion regarding the new municipal light plant (MLP) and its first order of business to better understand the state’s legal requirements particularly as they require a more formal bid selection process. Town Manager John Lebeaux addressed that issue by saying if the law requires a public bidding processes then the MLP will be legally required to solicit more bids.

The price quoted by Matrix/Millenium is certainly in line with similar projects that are ongoing elsewhere in the Commonwealth, particularly in the western region. Given the strong resistance in town to any increase in taxes, requesting a bond for the town of over $4 million has a non-zero probability of failing. If there was a better deal to be had, the town is not in a position fiscally or politically to take advantage of it.

Impact on real estate sales misunderstood

The writer incorrectly suggests that a ‘wired’ network is simply too expensive and will burden the town for generations and make our homes unsellable. The PBC, with input from area realtors, has always claimed that our homes are becoming less sellable by the year without the Internet connection people in our region need and expect. Moreover, ‘wiring’ the town with fiber could provide the town and Matrix/Millenium opportunities for revenue to help pay for the network from other than the subscribers. Sometimes the cost of doing nothing or of staying the course is much more expensive than acting, especially in a 21st century town that has no cable service and is ‘unserved’ for internet completely surrounded by towns that do. Let us not look a gift horse in the mouth, especially the one that is also the fastest.

Fiber is built for generations to come

According to the FCC’s technical paper entitled The Broadband Availability Gap, “As broadband needs continue to grow, fiber emerges as the only last-mile technology capable of meeting ultra high-speed needs. So, any solution that brings fiber closer to the home by pushing it deeper into the network puts into place an infrastructure that has long-term strategic benefits.”

Fiber optic in residential broadband applications is established and ubiquitous; running 90 percent of the entire Internet, including the technology that lets cable companies provide those blazing fast CATV services over their coaxial network. Bandwidth over fiber has improved continuously over time and researchers pushing the limits still see about one million times more data bandwidth capability than is currently being used.

The Princeton Broadband Committee welcomes all comments and suggestions relating to this issue, which we will address via this website.