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
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.
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.
The vast majority of Princeton residents want…no, need…broadband for their daily lives. But if 66% of the town doesn’t vote to approve a seemingly minor, moneyless motion at the Annual Town Meeting on May 13, then all broadband progress is legally bound to be suspended — at least until 2016! Complacency is our only true enemy.
It’s all so bittersweet for us Princeton residents. On the one hand, we are all invited to an open house at the Princeton Library this week so people can experience the wonders of a high-speed fiber connection to the internet. On the other hand, we all have to return to our homes after that event, all of which are on the wrong side of the tracks, digitally speaking.
If you are sick and tired of living on the wrong side of the tracks and want actual change, here are three must-do activities that you need to undertake this May.
1. Read about the “game changing” Matrix/Millennium proposal.
The big “game changing” news of 2014 is that Princeton has received a proposal from Matrix/Millennium that would construct a Fiber to the Home (FTTH) network under a public/private partnership. However, instead of the network construction being funded fully out of taxes, under this proposal, the network would be paid for by subscribers over a period of years. This proposal can truly be a win/win situation for Princeton residents — the opportunity for high-speed internet without paying for the whole thing ourselves. Read more details here or check out The Landmark article Another option for high speed internet.
However, as game changing as this proposal may be, it is fully contingent on the upcoming broadband votes at the Annual Town Meeting.
2. Attend the Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, May 13 and vote YES on the two broadband motions.
If you are serious about wanting broadband in town, you absolutely must attend this event (May 13, 7pm at Thomas Prince School) . Even if you don’t think about politics much. Even if you don’t normally get involved in town affairs. Even if you have a busy week already. The regulars, those who never miss annual town meetings, may or may not approve these motions. That’s why we need the full town represented in the vote and not let our future be dictated by a small minority of residents.
The two motions that we will be voting on seem like minor issues. But if the first is not approved by 66% of the town, the results would be catastrophic.
Motion #1: A vote to establish a Telecommunications MLP (Municipal Light Plant). According to Mass state law, we can’t go forward with any broadband solution unless we have a legal telecommunications entity established for the town. A Telecommunications MLP is minimal or no cost to us, but it is one of those legal “checkmarks” that must be checked off our list to continue. (Check out The Landmark article on the motion.)
Here’s the tricky thing about this vote. Mass law requires the town residents vote twice to establish an MLP. The first vote successfully passed at the 2013 town meeting. So, we have to vote one more time this year. Sounds like all standard stuff, right? Here’s the catch:
- The vote must be approved by 66% of the town residents, not a simple majority. That’s why your attendance at the town meeting is so essential. It doesn’t take many NO voters to take down a 2/3rds vote.
- If the second vote fails, we can’t vote on the motion again for another 2 years.
See the dire implications? The vast majority of Princeton residents want…no, need…broadband for their daily lives. But if 66% of the town doesn’t vote to approve a seemingly, minor moneyless motion at the Annual Town Meeting on May 13, then all broadband progress is legally bound to be suspended — at least until 2016! Complacency is our only true enemy. Come hell or high water, be there on May 13!
Motion #2: Request for $17,000 for technical and legal expertise to represent the town’s interest in any negotiations to build a network. To be clear, this is not a request to fund building a network. Instead, this is a smaller fund to ensure that any sort of private/public plan that emerges is in the best interest of the town.
3. Tell your friends and neighbors.
Make sure you spread the news about the Matrix/Millennium proposal and upcoming town votes with your friends, neighbors, and fellow parents at little league practices/games. What’s more, we encourage you to Like us on Facebook and share our posts with your Facebook friends. Let’s work together to ensure that the full town of Princeton is represented at the Annual Town Meeting this year.
4. Check out the fiber broadband connection at Princeton Library.
If the first three are required actions for every Princeton resident, the fourth to-do is more of an option. We invite you to check out the newly connection fiber internet at Princeton Library. If the Matrix/Millennium proposal is approved, this is exactly the same type of FTTH connection that you will be able to enjoy.
If you have any questions, get in touch.
- For general questions, ask on Facebook, post a comment on this blog, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For questions on Matrix/Millennium proposal, head to the Princeton Library on May 3 and ask a Matrix representative. Or, email us at email@example.com and we’ll put you in touch.
Princeton Residents Invited to Try Out Ultra-Fast Internet at Princeton Library from April 29 – May 3
You have heard us talking for 18 months on this web site about ultra-fast internet, bandwidth speeds, fiber optics, broadband technology comparisons, and so on. However, enough talk — it’s time to see a fiber optic network in action! That’s why, from April 29 to May 3, you will be able to witness first-hand the blazing speeds of a fiber optic internet connection and see how life changing it can be compared to existing internet solutions offered in town.
If you are a Princeton resident, you are invited to experience high-speed Internet access during the week of April 29 to May 3 at the Princeton Public Library. Sponsored by fiber optic vendors Calix and Matrix Design Group, the event will feature hands-on access to the library’s new fiber optic network with connection speeds of up to 50 megabytes per second. The new broadband network was recently installed by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute through its initiative to bring high-speed Internet access to rural “unserved” communities in Western and Central Massachusetts, including Princeton.
Public access is available April 29-May 2 during the library’s normal hours of operation.
A more detailed special event is set for Saturday, May 3 from noon to 5 pm that will feature demonstrations, comparison tests with existing services, a closer look at equipment needed by subscribers, and the opportunity to meet with representatives from Matrix, the company preparing a final draft of a joint proposal to cover the costs to install the $3-$4 million network directly to Princeton homes.
According to Chris Lynch, Northeast senior account representative for Matrix, “This is a great opportunity for residents to meet with us and to learn more about the benefits of a having in-home access to a faster Internet. Many in town are currently served by speeds no faster than 1-2 megabytes per second, some even less. Considering that a typical song from iTunes can be downloaded in just two seconds at 50 mbps, users will be extremely impressed with the potential of having in-home access with this high rate of speed.”
Lynch further explained that while Internet speeds will vary due to the number of users on-line at the same time and other variables, Princeton residents are expected to receive close to the highest rate of Internet speed currently available for residential use nationwide.
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One word of warning from Princetonbroadband.com: Once you experience the fiber optic speeds, we expect many Princeton residents will tempted to relocate their homes to the library until a fiber optic network is built out throughout the town. Sorry to burst your bubble, but we don’t believe that the library is accepting boarders at this time.
The agenda for the Feb. 26 meeting of the Princeton Broadband Committee included a presentation from Matrix/Millennium on their latest proposal to fund a high-speed fiber optic network to town residences. The meeting, open to the public, allowed Princeton residents the opportunity to address questions and concerns regarding the project, which was originally unveiled to the committee Feb.12.
The presentation, delivered by Chris Lynch, senior account representative for Matrix Design Group, looked at costs related to two possible installation scenarios, including a list of exclusions that would be Princeton’ responsibilities in completing the estimated $4 -5.3 million in project expenses.
The committee wished to thank the concerned residents who attended the meeting and looks forward to holding more in-depth public hearings on the project this spring. Check back with this site from time to time for any posted updates on recent developments.
Download the Matrix/Millennium Proposal here (.PDF)
Have a question or comment regarding the recent proposal from Matrix/Millennium to cover costs to install a town wide high-speed, fiber optic network? If so, you are invited to attend the Feb. 26 meeting of the Princeton Broadband Committee at Town Hall Annex. The meeting begins at 7:00 pm with the public comment agenda item scheduled for 7:30 pm.
All broadband committee meetings are open to the public, but this meeting represents the first opportunity for Princeton residents to ask questions regarding the proposal. While discussions at this point are in their preliminary stages, a more detailed Information Session on the proposal will be held in the near future.