If there’s a “poster child” for broadband development in rural western Massachusetts, it’s Leverett, which last month signed a $2.7 million contract to build a “last-mile” fiber-optic network along its 40 miles of roads, for universal telecommunication service that’s expected to be up and running sometime next year.
“It’s a real milestone,” Selectboard member Peter d’Errico says. “It’s taken us almost two years in the making. “As far as we’re aware, we’re still out front in getting this done first.”
In fact, while the town won a critical $40,000 grant from Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) that paid for a detailed design study by G4S — the same company that won the $2.7 million construction contract — the journey has taken much longer. It’s also meant taxpayers agreeing to shoulder the burden of paying to have their network built, in part to assure that their home values keep up with the ever-growing demand for affordable high-speed telecommunication.
Robert Brooks, who chairs the town Broadband Committee, has been working on trying to bring high-speed telecommunications to the town for 10 years. Working with Shutesbury, Leverett began by approaching Verizon and Comcast to extend service, with little satisfaction.
“Out of our own internal sense of frustration of trying to deal with Verizon,” recalled d’’Errico, “it was pretty clear we were going to have to do it on our own. (Brooks) was the point person for exploring other avenues, saying, ‘We can work this out. If Leverett wants to do it, Leverett is going to have to do it.”
The town’s frustrations over telecommunication weren’t limited to simply bringing high-speed Internet service to its residents. Residents’ reports of interruptions in service, static and other noises that interrupted phone conversations and problems using the town’s reverse-911 calling system led to complaints against the telephone company to the state Department of Telecommunications and Cable.
“Any time we had any moisture or rain, whole sections of town would have no telephone service,” d’Errico said.
Similar complaints, brought by a variety of towns, including Rowe and Shutesbury, eventually led to a settlement that required Verizon to repair its copper phone wires, and those problems have largely abated, according to d’Errico. He emphasized that telephone service and Internet service are treated differently, however: DTC oversees land-line telephone, but not cellphone or broadband service.
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