Five towns band together in redundant broadband network


For the Recorder

Published: 03-27-2023 11:41 AM

A new broadband network for Colrain, Charlemont, Heath, Leyden and Rowe that prevents major outages and improves the resiliency of internet access will be completed by June 30.

The system creates three backhauls and a 10-gigabyte circuit connection shared between the towns: one in Rowe, one in Charlemont and one in Leyden. The project also increases redundancy to prevent internet outages caused by downed utility poles, fires or other natural disasters. Jack Golden, broadband manager in Leyden, described the broadband as a water pipe and the backhaul as the water that runs through those pipes.

“All the towns in western Mass. basically had one route that the backhaul was traveling through,” said Golden. “In a storm when a tree could come down, it could take out the fiber line and the town wouldn’t have broadband.”

“This work both improves our network resiliency, provides more capacity for growth and reduces the cost for all five towns,” said Charlemont Broadband Committee Chair Bob Handsaker.

Colrain received a $400,000 grant from the Community Compact Cabinet Municipal Fiber Grant program in July 2022 to pay for the new redundant broadband network. The grant was the second largest awarded from this program.

Currently, all five towns have their own separate broadband networks without redundancy. Each town is also connected to the state Middle Mile Network, an internet system that extends through all of central and western Massachusetts. Operated by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), the Middle Mile Network connects municipal fiber networks to telecommunication services and the internet. However, if one accident impacts the Middle Mile Network, one or more towns could lose service.

“One way in and one way out doesn’t work,” Colrain Selectboard member Michael Slowinski said. “If a tree falls down, it puts an entire town out of the business.”

The new broadband system uses a redundancy network that offers multiple lines for data and information to travel through. If one connection goes down, the network will stay intact.

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“So if something happens on Route 2, we can get our feed from Rowe or the MBI line coming in from Leyden,” Slowinski said.

The towns will have three different routes. One starts in Rowe and goes through Heath and Charlemont to Colrain and then Leyden. Another starts in Charlemont, heads to Rowe, Heath and Colrain, and ends in Leyden. The third route starts in Leyden and goes to Colrain, then Heath, Charlemont and Rowe.

This would mean, for example, that Leyden would still have internet if a line in town gets taken out, because the internet would still be accessible from the route through Colrain, according to Golden.

Backhaul connections link local wired networks to the core wireless networks, such as area cell towers. Verizon and AccessPlus supply the backhaul connection to Charlemont. Crown Castle administers the backhaul to Rowe. The backhaul provided to Leyden is unknown until MBI assigns the new network operator for the state Middle Mile Network. Handsaker said each town will see instant savings on the internet with the new system.

“That is just great news for a small town like Leyden because we are really trying to make broadband affordable for our residents [and] our customers. ... We’re trying to save money to go ahead and replace equipment every seven years, and there’s a lot of pressure on us to keep our prices as affordable as possible,” said Golden.

For the first few years of broadband, Leyden taxpayers have been paying a certain amount of money toward a $1.2 million loan for the town’s broadband network. Golden said because of this, he wants to keep monthly bills low.

Leyden originally had 1 gigabyte of service per month for a primary and secondary line, which cost the town about $2,100, Golden said. With this new agreement, Leyden will have a primary, secondary and tertiary line, which costs roughly $1,200 a month.

“The 10-gigabyte share will go a long way in helping to pay down the loan,” said Golden.

Colrain accounts for 35% of the internet usage, Charlemont gets 25%, Heath has 20%, and Leyden and Rowe both use 10%. The Municipal Light Plant managers of each town, as well as Charlemont’s Broadband Committee, broke up the internet usage proportion for each town based on population. Towns pay a prorated cost based on how much of each connection they share.