What is the Matrix Plan? And what are we voting on at the special town meeting?
In 2014, high-speed broadband internet is becoming a utility as interwoven into everyday life as electricity and the telephone – leaving communities without broadband on the wrong side of the “digital divide”. Princeton is one of those communities, in contrast to our Wachusett neighbors (shown in the figure below) who are all equipped with cable and other broadband options.
In fact, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute classifies Princeton as an “unserved” community, meaning that 90% or more of the population has no access to broadband. DSL and other forms of internet access available in Princeton are not considered “broadband” by the MBI, because they do not meet the minimum bandwidth standards of broadband access.
This FCC broadband map illustrates how disconnected Princeton is from the rest of the state. As the largest unserved community in the state, Princeton sticks out like a sore orange thumb in a sea of broadband green across the rest of eastern Massachusetts.
But we don’t need any outsiders telling us that we are unserved. We Princetoners know all too well the downside of living on the wrong side of the digital divide.
A 14-year-old Princeton resident writes:
This [poor] Internet really effects my schoolwork because of the technology growth at my school…We use the Internet for EVERYTHING. Almost all homework must be downloaded, and we use the iPad as our main device for school work…Good Internet is not just a toy but a necessity.
Another Princeton resident writes:
My son and his wife would love to move back to Princeton. However, they are prevented from doing this because their careers require the availability of High Speed Internet.
Working from home can be very difficult, says Rick:
When the internet is down or slow, I cannot work from home, and need to travel into the office to get work done.
Mary shares of her family’s struggle:
I have lived in this town for 11 years now and really love living here. I currently have satellite internet and can’t stand it…Once our usage for the month runs out, our internet speed decrease [and] it is like having dial up all over again.!!!! Broadband help!!!
What’s more, our lack of broadband significantly impacts people willing to buy a home in Princeton. Bruce from Hubbardston comments:
Personally I would love to live [in Princeton], but not until I can get broadband access.
Heather shares a similar story:
We currently live and Holden and would like to move to Princeton…The only problem is this, my husband is a computer engineer and often works from home. Therefore, we need high speed internet. [Without it], we will be forced to stay in Holden or move to Sterling.
So What Are We Doing to Change This?
The Princeton Broadband Committee was formed 2 years ago to assess the town’s internet situation, investigate available broadband options, and propose a solution to the town.
We had many key goals for determining the best technological solution. These include:
- Performance – the solution needs be able to handle the work, communication, and entertainment functions that we do today as well as the needs that we will have 20 years from now.
- Reliability – the solution needs to be available when you need it, regardless of whether your neighbors are all online at the same time. What’s more, it is unacceptable that internet goes down on a Friday night and not even looked at until Monday AM.
- Future proofing – the solution needs to be viable, not just for a decade, but for more than a generation.
- Cost effectiveness – Princeton is not going to be like a Boston or a Worcester in which internet providers will low ball prices and treat internet as a commodity. But, in spite of that, the solution needs to be as economical as possible and offer subscribers the “biggest bang for the buck”.
The more we explored all options, all roads led to a “fiber-to-the-home” network. Fiber is state of the art technology. It is what the internet itself is built upon.
You can read the following resources on this site for more discussion on fiber:
- Why Fiber is the Best Choice
- Comparing Fiber vs. DSL vs. Cable
- Customer satisfaction comparison
- Overview video on fiber-to-the-home
- Impact of fiber on property values
- Fiber-to-the-home as the technology standard
We initially explored funding and building our own fiber-to-the-home network, just like the town of Leverett, Mass is currently doing now. However, the cost to the tax payer would be significant if we paid for a multi-million dollar network all by ourselves. [Click here to read more about Leverett.]
We also explored having Big Cable come into town and do it for us. However, Charter, Verizon, and Comcast all declined the offer.
What is the Matrix Private/Public Plan?
With that backdrop, enter Matrix Design Group. Earlier this year, Matrix Design Group came to us with a different sort of plan: A private/public venture in which Matrix designs, finances, and constructs a fiber-to-the-home network within Princeton, and they will stick around over the long term to maintain and operate it. Subscribers to the service will pay back that investment over time as a portion of their subscription bill. [Click here for case studies on previous Matrix Design Group work.]
This private/public venture is fundamentally different than doing it ourselves. Matrix takes on all the risk of building the network and funds the $3.1m build-out themselves. Only subscribers to the service will be responsible for paying for the network. [Click for more details on the Matrix plan.]
What Are “Make Ready” Costs?
So far so good, right?
The one caveat is that in order to build out any fiber network in Princeton, the town’s utility poles all need to be up to code to attach fiber cables to them. Yes, many poles were replaced or upgraded because of the ice storm back in 2008, but there are still many that need repair or upgrades.
Therefore, for our part in this proposed partnership, Princeton is responsible for paying for the necessary costs to get the town’s utility poles in proper condition. We call these “make ready” costs.
We recently had a team of experts survey each pole in town and determine what would be needed to in order to get them “up to snuff”. Our team also estimated what additional start up expenses are needed for the “make ready”. We estimate that the total cost comes to $1.2m.
As shown in the pie chart below, the bulk of the cost is to get the utility poles in proper condition by PMLD and Verizon. But there are also additional start up costs that we would need to fund as well. Expenses like a telecom hut to house key network equipment, police details during construction, and legal fees.
In order to pay for this, a special town meeting is being called on Nov 18 to vote to approve borrowing the $1.2m funds for these “make ready” costs. In terms of the overall impact on your property taxes, the average tax bill would increase $112 for 10 years.
It is important to understand that this “make ready” work is necessary for any plan to get started, no matter who the vendor would be – Matrix, Verizon, Comcast – or even if we built it ourselves. In fact, we are an unserved community today because of decisions made 20 years ago not to do “make ready” work for cable. Specifically, when cable companies looked to come into Princeton in the early 1990s, they declined because the town refused to pay for the “make ready” work that would have otherwise brought them here.
What Would Matrix Internet Services Look Like?
Matrix would offer:
- Fiber connection to the internet
- Optional VOIP phone service [click for phone features]
Subscribers to the Matrix Design Group solution can expect Internet speeds up to 50 Mbps, which is up to 50 times faster than other alternatives in town (basic Ayacht is ~1Mbps, DSL is between 1-3 Mbps, 4G/LTE in town ranges from 2-18 Mbps) . These Matrix fiber speeds will be able to fully accommodate “streaming” services such as Netflix and Hulu. However, while we may we start out at 50Mbps, the fiber network has the built-in capability of going up to a staggering 2Gbps speed.
What Would Be the Subscription Cost?
The planned cost for this service is:
- Internet only – $95
- Internet/Voice – $115
- Compare the Internet only option ($95 amount/50 Mbps) with the top tier plan of Ayacht which is $90 monthly for 8Mbps.
- Compare the Internet/Voice $115/50 Mbps bundle with Verizon DSL Double Play, which totals out to $87/max 3Mbps.
Also, when comparing pricing with advertised rates in other communities, keep in mind where we live. As mentioned earlier, rural Princeton is not going to be like a major metro area in which Comcast and Verizon low ball prices in an effort to maximize subscribers.
A construction fee of $25 is part of the monthly service figures shown above and will be part of the bill for 20 years. [Click for more details on breakdown of monthly fees.]
What are the Nov 18 and Dec 9 Votes About?
A special town meeting is scheduled for Nov 18 at 7pm at Thomas Prince School to vote on borrowing the funds for the “make ready” costs. A 2/3rds majority is required for this vote to pass.
If that motion passes, then state law requires a second ballot vote on Dec 9 at the Town Hall Annex. A simple 50% majority is required for this vote to pass.
If both of those votes are approved by town residents, then the Princeton Broadband MLP will have the green light to negotiate the final contract with Matrix to get things rolling for the actual build in 2015.
The votes on Nov 18 and Dec 9 are your two opportunities to voice your opinion.
In the early 20th century, Princetonites made an investment in the future to wire the town with electricity. Fast forward a hundred years. Now is the time for us to make an investment into our community to bring Princeton into the 21st century.
If you have questions, you have three ways to get them answered:
- Come to an Information Session on Nov 12 and 13 (7pm) at the Town Hall Annex. We will have representatives from the Broadband Committee, Matrix Design Group, and other experts available to answer your questions.
- Ask questions here on princetonbroadband.com.
- You can also join us on Facebook at facebook.com/princetonbroadband and post your questions/comments there.