As we did with the first two town hearings, we wanted to provide an informal, unofficial summary of the discussion from the final town hearing this past week. These notes are provided below.
Questions and Comments from Residents:
Why is fiber the future? It seems old / aren’t satellites are the future?
The BBC responded that satellite communication by its nature requires radio waves that communicate over long distances, resulting in noticeable delays that make it unsuitable for use in many situations, such as telephone / VOIP and telecommuting applications. Satellites are a shared/limited resource and thus companies who operate satellite internet service limit total bandwidth use. Fiber by contrast is non-shared (each subscriber effectively gets their own line), and has very high round-trip performance. The BBC also commented that fiber systems have proven to be future-proof since they have been in operation for decades but are still considered the state of the art and are the fastest internet communication medium.
What about radio/cellular internet (4G, etc) services? Aren’t they the newest technology?
The BBC responded that while wireless systems are evolving and are good for mobile communications, they have distinct technical disadvantages when utilized to provide town-wide home internet service. Wireless bandwidth for all users is limited to the speed of the slowest connection on the network, and since many homes must communicate to a single antenna/base station, bandwidth is shared among many home to that point. This approach results in slower overall speeds and also imposed data caps, which are not issues in the high-speed, direct connection design present in a fiber network. The BBC also commented that there are other factors that make wireless systems less reliable, such as issues with varying reception. (Due to weather, foliage, and the general terrain of our area.)
In response to a BBC comment about Verizon not expanding DSL service in town, a resident asked if the BBC had an authoritative / “in writing” answer from Verizon on the subject.
The BBC responded that our members had talked directly to Verizon at the Vice President level and in an official capacity, and Verizon had flatly refused to provide expanded service to town in any immediate timeframe, even if the town was willing to subsidize the installation of the network. Verizon indicated that their priority is to finish build-out of towns they already committed to, before choosing new markets to expand service in.
I heard that if I move to another house or if I sell my home and a new resident moves in, DSL will not be available. Is this the case?
The BBC responded that our research had found that Verizon maintains a waiting list of people in town who have requested DSL, and as lines free up in an area they assign them to the first person on the list. As a result, people who move into a house that previously had DSL will be put at the back of the list, and may have to wait an indeterminate amount of time to get service, even if the residence previously had DSL service.
Have we looked into public assistance/funding? Why aren’t there Federal or State programs to fund Broadband?
The BBC noted that the Mass Broadband Initiative that is supplying the main fiber line into the access points in town is an example of a State/Federally funded program for Broadband we are taking advantage of. Programs to fund last-mile construction have been available in the past, but funding for such programs is currently exhausted. The Broadband Committee will continue to research and seek public funds if they become available to offset costs.
Can you put the answers to questions asked at the town meeting on the web site, along with specific cost numbers?
The BBC responded that the previous BBC slides and Hearing questions and responses had been posted to the web site, and that the current hearing notes would also be posted shortly. (Additionally, we will update our Frequently Asked Questions / FAQ section with questions and responses after the hearings have completed.)
Comment: The costs for this proposal over twenty years are too much; Seniors and those on a fixed income cannot afford funding a luxury like this.
There was subsequent discussion / debate from various other attending residents to the comment, several people taking issue with the characterization of high speed internet as a luxury. The BBC added here and at other points in the presentation that for a very large majority of residents, the increase in taxes paid over twenty years would be more than offset by the resulting increase in property values and by the reduction in internet/telephone costs if the project is completed.
Can people who have land line telephone service replace it with VOIP?
The BBC responded that yes, the current proposal would allow residents to replace their existing land line local and long distance service with a less expensive VOIP service. The BBC noted that the digital/fiber technology used for VOIP to the home is already in use by Verizon to communicate between Princeton and the rest of the phone network, so in some senses all calls in town already are VOIP. The BBC also noted that no equipment change inside the home would be required for VOIP service.
Comment: The town should never have let Verizon install DSL to only a portion of the town; it has had the effect of pitting DSL subscribers against non-subscribers in this debate.
Another resident responded that he was willing to “kiss Verizon goodbye” if there was a better service alternative.
Is there any downside to VOIP service compared to a traditional landline?
The BBC reiterated that all phone traffic goes over fiber and utilizes VOIP eventually, so it is a proven/established technology. Also it was noted that while older VOIP services suffered from line quality problems, the proposed system would utilize reserved/dedicated bandwidth on the network to ensure call quality.
Comment: Resident commented that he had a Metrocast system in a cabin, and with this VOIP system everything is powered off of the grid, lose if you lose power you lose phone service.
The BBC acknowledged that VOIP equipment did require connection to the power grid and some systems were vulnerable to outages if power was lost. The BBC mentioned that we would pursue the use of battery –backup-enabled devices in our system that could allow uninterrupted service for some period of time if power is lost. For longer outages or as a backup in general, it was noted that cellular service could be used.
What about underground cabling? We have a large amount of underground lines in our developments, and some of these have no conduit / are direct buried. Won’t this pose a problem for installation?
The BBC responded that the fiber installation design would take into account the portions of town that have underground service, including individual homes. In cases where an existing conduit cannot be used, the installers will use ditch-digging equipment to lay the fiber cabling along side of the existing electric service.
How reliable will the system be? I have to reset my router all the time due to network problems.
The BBC responded that while no system is 100% reliable, fiber systems have a very good reliability record where they have been deployed. The superior reliability of fiber versus radio-based wireless systems is one of the factors that contributed to the current proposed design choice.
Do you have a reference town with a successful track record of this working?
The BBC cited several examples of towns that are successfully operating a municipal fiber network, including the town of Westfield MA. which installed its still-used network in the early 1990s and has subsequently paid off all installation costs. Shrewsbury MA also has been operating a municipal fiber network for over a decade.
The BBC also mentioned Rindge, NH. as an example of a town that had recently finished their fiber network and was now taking subscribers, and Leverett MA as an example of a town that had completed their design and funding and was now in the process if installation. Many other towns in Massachusetts are at various points in the process of planning fiber networks to connect to the Mass Broadband system.
What is the “middle mile fee” shown in the monthly subscriber cost breakdowns?
The BBC responded that the Middle Mile Fee represents the cost of leasing bandwidth on the Mass Broadband Network, which is the section of the system that connects our local fiber network to the rest of the Internet. (Thus, it is considered to be the “middle” part of the network)
The current proposed service provides a bundled internet/phone package at a single price. I am not a big Internet user, are there be pricing tiers for people like me?
The BBC responded that we could not provide an authoritative answer on the subscriber packages at this point, because it would depend on what Internet Service Provider (ISP) is selected. Since Princeton would own the finished network, we would have the opportunity to compare ISP plans and to shop for the best value for our residents. The BBC intends to find a plan that provides the best value to residents and which will be affordable for different levels of system use.
A resident suggested that we consider obtaining a plan where business users could buy a premium package for business use, and the extra money could be used to fund a lower-cost plan for Seniors or low income households.
A resident recently visited Kansas City and was impressed with the Google Fiber system. He felt however that the Princeton proposal could not be compared to Google Fiber, since Google is a multi-billion-dollar company with vast resources.
The BBC commented that the technology that is being proposed for Princeton is actually very similar to what is used by Google in Kansas City, but acknowledged that Google would be able to provide faster overall service because they own the middle-mile network and can provide extremely high capacity (up to 1Gbps) to its subscribers. The BBC believes that Princeton’s subscribers would have a sustained 30Mbps connection as a minimum speed under most circumstances, which is still 10X faster than even the fastest available speeds in town today.
Comment: Talking around town, biggest concern I have heard from other residents is the cost of the system in terms of the effect on our taxes. At first meeting we had rough estimate of about 6 million dollars for the system, which is a lot of money. We realize that this is only an estimate but please do your absolute best to whittle down costs wherever possible.
The BBC responded that we have presented estimates that are conservative, and are hopeful that the actual system expenses and associated costs to residents will be under the projection. We have some evidence from Leverett’s experience that actual bids from contract installers were below the design projections, perhaps in part because of the competitive market that exists today for installation contractors. The BBC added that we would seek avenues to reduce costs wherever reasonably possible.
How do you cover the cost of possible major damage, ice storm, tornadoes etc. Can you buy risk insurance?
The BBC responded that we have discussed risk insurance with PMLD, who said that their experience with it is that it is too expensive to be worth the cost. The BBC added that during our last disaster (ice storm), the town was fully reimbursed by FEMA for costs, excluding only the carrying costs of short-term borrowing needed to repair the system. The BBC has determined that Broadband telecommunications networks fall under the category of essential infrastructure in FEMA’s guidelines and would be eligible for disaster relief if another major event occurred.
For smaller storms and events, the BBC mentioned that a portion of the monthly access fee from residents would pay into a maintenance and depreciation fund that will be used for repairs.
Given that the plan proposes an Internet/Telephone bundle, why is Television not part of the bundle?
The BBC responded that offering television/cable packages on the network will be technically possible, and is an option should an outside vendor want to provide service on the network, but that it would be prohibitively expensive for the town to create their own cable service due to the equipment and licensing fees involved.
The BBC also noted the current shift to television programming directly from providers over the internet instead of through cable, through services like Hulu, Netflix, Aereo, Youtube, and even the major TV networks themselves. The BBC said we could not promise residents they could replace their current satellite service because not all cable channels are available online, but over time more and more people may be able to take advantage of the cost savings of direct internet access to television.
A resident noted that there is a Federal rural initiative created a fund to supply phone service to rural areas, is there the same funding for internet? Another resident commented that they considered Princeton to be rural and was interested in this idea.
The BBC commented that they had no knowledge of such a fund or Federal directive currently in place, but would continue to monitor developments in this area and would take advantage of any funding we are entitled to.
Comment: A resident felt the BBC was doing a great job, and was very excited about the project. He felt that we have to do something, because the town is essentially dying, and mentioned being unable to sell property due to lack of internet, and being unable to conduct business in town because of the internet situation. He also commented that he understood some people did not want it or felt they could not afford it, but that the town would have more problems without high speed internet than the ones we gain from putting it in.
Comment: A resident expressed frustration with bordering a town that has high speed internet when he does not by saying “I can throw a rock to high speed internet, but can’t get it.”
Assuming we approve the plan and go forward, what is the likelihood that Verizon will come in and want to operate our network?
The BBC responded that Princeton would own the finished network and thus would choose what ISP operated it. If Verizon approached us with an offer to run the network and the terms were agreeable, we could choose them, but we would not be limited to Verizon as a choice since there are many ISPs who would be interested. The BBC also mentioned that it would be unlikely that Verizon would have an interest in operating the network given our current understanding of their priorities.
How long would we contract with the ISP?
The BBC responded that we would probably try to keep the contract term short and would seek the best terms possible. Since the town owns the network we would have the option of renegotiating or switching providers if the ISP turned out to be unsatisfactory.
How long will it take to install the network?
The BBC went through the proposed timeline. Once the network design was completed and funding secured, we would enter a bidding process and select the lowest/best installation bid. Once the installer is selected we expect the network could be installed in 3.5 months. The BBC is estimating project completion by the end of 2014 if not earlier based on our current timeline.
Could Verizon drop us once we start our network install?
The BBC commented that it is unknown, but that we believe that Princeton is an extremely small market to Verizon, and that they would not take strong action to prematurely end service in Princeton, for the same reasons they would not take strong action to increase service.
Will the Broadband Committee dissolve once the project is approved, or will it see the project through to the end?
The BBC responded that we are a dedicated committee, and had put in many hours so far to put this proposal together. The committee is commissioned through 2014, but as a general answer to the question, there is a strong desire by committee members to see this project through to a successful end.
Several residents asked how they can help, how to bring more people to town meeting, and whether the BBC could send out mailings to encourage people to vote for the program, either directly or via the PMLD light bills.
The BBC responded that as on official town committee, we are prohibited from sending out mailings on specific issues, but could only encourage people to come to the meeting in general. PMLD no longer does its own mailing and uses a third party service that does not distribute flyers. (Residents however are of course free to send mailers or solicit residents to vote for or against the project as they see fit.)
Will a presentation be given at town meeting?
The BBC indicated a shortened version of the presentation will be given, perhaps five slides.
Comment: A resident had talked to a Real Estate agent who commented that the buyer pool had been in Princeton, but that this was mostly the effect of the recession and tightened lending than it was due to the broadband issue.
A resident who has sold real estate in town for twenty years responded that in 2005 we had a “level Internet playing field” with DSL service starting in town. Now it’s changed, surrounding towns have much higher speeds than DSL, and Princeton only has partial service. People move here for the rural lifestyle and they want to work from home but can’t. The resident related a story about a new owner could not get DSL because of the waiting list and the agent had to add the new buyer to the old owner’s DSL account in order to get service. The resident concluded that they did not think we’ll get flocks of people because of the internet service, but felt having it would stabilize the market.
If fiber breaks, how long will it take to repair versus traditional electric or cable repairs?
The BBC responded that fiber can be repaired in approximately the same amount of time, but used different equipment. In some cases, finding breaks in fiber would be quicker than traditional electric cables. The BBC also add that we will have the ability to put language into our bid proposals that mandates the maintenance provider to have local resources available for quick response time to breakages.
When would billing start after installation, and would there be an office in Princeton?
The BBC responded that billing is the responsibility of the ISP, and service and billing could only start up after the ISP is selected. The ISP would be an external company and would not have an office in Princeton, but would have access to maintenance service providers who are local to the area for handling network problems.
Attending BBC Members
Attending Residents: approximately 35
Hearing reconvened at 7:01 PM
John K. presented material from the Broadband Committee (herein referred to as the BBC) slide set.
Meeting adjourned at 8:45 pm