CHARLEMONT – The city has taken an important step on the broadband path, with Whip City Fiber connecting the city’s first users to the new municipal fiber optic Internet service, Charlemont Connect.
An ongoing process, the payment is intended to ultimately provide all residents of Charlemont with affordable and reliable broadband. Charlemont Connect and the city’s Broadband Committee marked the occasion earlier this month with a celebration at the Charlemont Fairgrounds.
“We had a small but enthusiastic crowd,” said Bob Handsaker, chairman of the Broadband Committee. “We gave people an update on the construction and answered questions. ”
The celebration included a ribbon cut, cake and lemonade.
“We’ve been working on this for a number of years, and the celebration was held because we’re lighting up one of the areas,” Handsaker explained. While not all sectors are complete at the moment, Handsaker said the final cost will be around $ 3.5 million, paid in part by the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and in part by the city itself.
There will be five sectors in total in Charlemont which will be operational throughout the fall and winter. The first segment of the fiber optic network serves the western end of the village and South River Road.
After testing, general installation began the week of August 2. Installation includes the necessary cabling, a router, and tests to verify performance.
“People who have received service seem to be really happy with it,” Handsaker noted. He believes that customer satisfaction is largely due to the speed of the new network, which is reaching 1000 megabits per second, or 1 gigabit of symmetrical upload and download. Handsaker said the only options previously available to residents were somewhat slow and unreliable in comparison.
Without the fiber optic network, about 75 to 80 percent of city residents can have access to Verizon DSL, according to Handsaker. Satellite internet is also an option, but has performance issues and data limitations. This lack of options, he said, is what makes it so important for this new network to reach every home and business in the city.
“For me, the network is really about economic development and business support, remote working, home education and telemedicine,” Handsaker said. “The pandemic has highlighted the importance of high-speed, high-speed Internet service. ”
The availability of the Internet can be an important “enabling factor” for families and young people to move to western Massachusetts, Handsaker added.
Once the fiber optic network in an area of the city goes live, if residents have already signed up for the service through Whip City Fiber, they will receive a phone call to schedule an installation time and an appointment. Standard installation is free if they sign up for one year of service.
Residential and commercial service costs $ 79.99 per month on Charlemont’s own network, including equipment and WiFi. Phone service costs $ 19.99 per month. For sales and sales figures, contact Whip City Fiber at 413-485-1251.
One “useful” program mentioned by Handsaker is that of the Federal Communications Commission. Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.
“This program offers eligible people a $ 50 reduction per month on their Internet bill. You may be eligible based on your income, your eligibility for certain other federal programs, or income lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ”he explained.
The broadband emergency benefits program was initially funded using COVID-19 relief funds, although Handsaker said many were pushing to make it a permanent program.
Each family with a student at the Hawlemont Regional School is also entitled to a $ 50 reduction, Handsaker said, because a qualifier receives a free or reduced school lunch. Since every Hawlemont student is eligible, every family is entitled to the monthly rebate.
Making high-speed internet accessible has been a group effort, said Handsaker.
“For a lot of people it was very important that it reached everyone and didn’t leave anyone behind like the other options,” Handsaker said.
More than 400 people have signed up for the service across the city, which he says is a significant number because it shows that people really want the service and will continue to sign up.
“The city has been working on getting a broadband solution for probably at least 10 years, as have many cities in western Massachusetts,” Handsaker said.
“It’s great to see it finally light up,” he continued. “This has been the culmination of years of work, planning and advocacy at this point. ”
To find updates and news on Charlemont’s broadband travel, visit charlemontconnect.org.