We welcome all questions addressed to the Princeton Broadband Committee regarding ultra-fast fiber optic Internet access coming to Princeton and will use this space to respond with answers and comments. Questions may be subject to some editing because of space considerations and we will attempt to keep our responses as brief as possible. We address all questions submitted to us at our posted public meetings, which are usually held weekly in Town Hall. Our meeting schedule may delay some responses to your question by several days so your patience in waiting for a reply is appreciated. Please send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. As I understand the Charter proposal, people in low density areas would be left out. And with only us ‘low density people’ left, any other provider might potentially pull out. If so, we could be left in much worse shape. Could the Broadband committee investigate a hybrid solution? Come up with a creative plan to bridge the gap with Charter so that the low density areas could be covered? I think this will need to be explored if we go with a Charter-type solution.
A. Whether it be Charter, Comcast, or any other third party, there is a high likelihood that low density area will be left not served by that third party. However, it has been the goal of the committee from the start to ensure that all Princeton residents can receive high quality internet access. That goal remains and thus we would try to work with/negotiate with the third party to build out even the low density areas. Because there is a cost to doing so, in order to reduce that cost, and thus hopefully come to an agreeable outcome with the third party (that provides a return on investment that meets the third party’s needs and our service needs) a hybrid approach is a possible solution for low density areas. Such technology hybrids like fiber to the node (end of road for instance) with wireless mesh networking down the road are then on the table as reasonable alternatives.
Outside of working with the third party:
- It would be difficult to sell to the townsfolk a Princeton-owned solution that only covered out low density areas. It is common for folks to say that if they do not directly benefit, then why should they have to pay for it.
- Should no third party come to the table with an acceptable majority percentage build out proposal, the concept of the town building and owning a fiber to the home last mile infrastructure remains on the table as an option.
- There is also the possibility, should a third party build a majority system, that the third party would then allow an existing wireless internet service provider or a co-op of Princeton residents to buy enough access from them to implement and provide internet and phone to those in lower density locations.
- Other options will certainly be considered.
Q. If I build a new home and want electrical service, I believe that I must pay for PMLD to run a 220V line form the road. If I opt out of having electrical service (i.e., by having wind/solar/generator sources) I can avoid that cost. Shouldn’t the broadband financing, by analogy, have two components? (1) One to build the basic infrastructure financed by a bond and paid by property (2) The other, would be an installation charge to subscribers. Those that wish to opt out can avoid that component.
A. In a town-sponsored build scenario, the committee has discussed the concept of residents paying for the line to be run to their house as a separate cost and thus a cost that only those who want the service are then paying for. Yes, doing so would result in a lower cost and thus a lower tax burden to implement the town wide infrastructure. Yes, individuals then can choose to have a line run to their house at a cost only to them.
However, the cons to this approach are:
- The cost to implement lines from the street pole to the house and install the device servicing the home after the town wide build is completed is far more expensive than installing such while teams of installers are in town doing the full build. Thus the cost to entry becomes prohibitive.
- Princeton is a small town. For any Internet Service Provider to want to provide service to the residents of the town of Princeton the financials have to work. This means that the ISPs need to see that the residents of Princeton have real-time access to sign-up and receive internet access at low to no cost in time or funds of physical entry. Without such, Princeton will be hard pressed to attract internet access providers that will provide a good service at a reasonable rate.
- If someone options out of receiving a connection to their house, the value that they are then receiving for the taxes they are paying to repay the town wide to the street pole infrastructure becomes limited in comparison to those that do not opt out. Their house is then worth less than their neighbor’s house that has the connection and they are less able to sell their house for the same reason. Though some say that they do not care about such, because either they never plan to sell their home, that the problem then becomes their kid’s problem and / or they intend to give their property to a non-profit organization upon their death, that group is an extremely small number of folks. In most cases, their home is their greatest asset. Assets are meant to be taken care of and improved when possible and practical.
- Should a town sponsored build be the best option and be approved by the voters, then it has thus far been the opinion of the committee that the cost savings (of installing house runs while there are many teams of installers in Princeton as part of the town-wide build) and the value to the town and the individual home owners outweighs the additional cost to the town of running a line to every premise. Once we have a better understanding of the true costs, we will be able to show the balance and be able to provide a more fact based opinion; one way or the other.
- Please note that we are in the process of putting out Requests for Information and Investigations of Licensing (Federal and Massachusetts – Cable Company – System initiation process) from which we will receive a far better understanding of the practicality and possibility of the options currently on the table. Post that data scrubbing, we will consider next steps and if even more alternate paths need to be investigated.
Q. Can you please tell me now that we’ve been delayed somewhat with this project what the new schedule is or where we are at with this? Bottom line, I’m just curious when we can start streaming Internet or working from home without glitchy VPN issues.
A. The committee is currently making progress on multiple fronts. First, the design for a town-wide fiber optic network is currently in progress. Once that is complete, we will have the key information needed to be able to obtain detailed cost estimates for the network installation. Second, we are also doing due diligence on the feasibility of a third party cable provider (such as Comcast or Charter) installing a town-wide network instead of the town funding it ourselves.
We will update you in the coming weeks here on the web site as the situation develops. For more details, we also invite you to attend our weekly committee meeting. (Check the town web site for meeting schedule.) Above all, we on the committee “feel your pain” and are as anxious as you are in bringing high-speed internet into town as soon as is possible and are working diligently towards that end.
Q. I live on a road where all utilities are underground. How will the fiber optic cable be strung to our houses which are well set back from the road?
A. The network design (currently in progress) is taking into account underground utility lines and all expectations are that fiber would be strung to your house in a like manner.
Q. What other towns anywhere in the US have funded a broadband infrastructure specifically through taxpayer funding? I am aware of municipal projects in Provo, UT, and Utopia CO, both of which have failed. At the public hearing you cited the success in Leverett, MA, but that project that has yet to be finished.
A. There are numerous successful taxpayer funded broadband projects across the US and the numbers grow monthly. Please refer to two documents on our website that address your concerns in some detail. An articled entitled “Apples and Oranges: Properly Evaluating Municipal Funded Fiber Network Projects” and the newly posted White Paper “Building a Municipal Broadband Network From the Ground Up: Lessons Learned From Those That Failed” should provide the information you are looking for.
Q. How many customers will be necessary to cover the costs of management and maintenance?
A. We do not anticipate any significant management costs associated with the project. The estimated network maintenance will be determined when we receive a Request For Information (RFI) sent to companies interesting in bidding for a maintenance agreement. A manufacturer’s warranty will be a major component of the contract to build the network, which means there will be no planned maintenance costs for the first two years of operation, thus allowing the accumulation of funds for future maintenance costs in advance.
Q. What is the committee’s best guess at subscribers once the system goes live? We say we have the potential for around 1400 subscribers but it is unrealistic to think every homeowner will sign up. So is it fair to ask 1000 to 1200 homeowners to pay via a tax increase for the 300 or 400 who do sign up?
A. The industry term for early subscribers is “take rate.” Based upon recent examples our current estimate is that 60 percent of households will subscribe by the end of the first year with a realistic possibility of 80 percent over time. Keep in mind that network maintenance and equipment will be supported entirely by subscribers, not ongoing taxpayer support.
In terms of “fairness,” we as residents are asked to pay taxes to cover a number of town expenses not utilized by everyone. As those without school-age children can attest, paying taxes to maintain and operate elementary, middle and regional high schools may seem unfair to some but it something we must all do on an annual basis.
Q. I looked through a significant portion of the Princeton Broadband website and do not see a proposed cost for a resident connection. What is the likely cost per connection?
A. Once the fiber optic cable has been completely installed, the plan is to bring a fiber connection from the pole into every residence at no cost. Keep in mind, however, that homeowners who decline the opportunity to take advantage of the initial no-cost build out will most certainly pay for a future connection to the home once the installation team has completed its work on your street.
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