Work begins on $7.6M fiber-optic network in Easthampton

  • Easthampton Municipal Building, 50 Payson Ave. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/11/2023 6:32:21 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Some homes and businesses in Easthampton may be able to opt into a fiber-optic network as an alternative to traditional cable internet starting in January.

In a step toward transforming the city’s digital landscape, construction crews have started underground work on a $7.6 million fiber-optic network project, which will be paid for entirely by GoNetSpeed, a telecommunications company that builds fiber-optic networks across the East Coast.

Using fiber-optic cables to transmit information along light pulses, rather than copper wire, the networks are able to establish faster and more reliable internet connections, advocates say.

“It’s a future-proof, very expandable network,” said John Furey, GoNetSpeed’s manager of OSP engineering in Massachusetts. “As technology comes along, it’s just a matter of changing some electronics on the ends and upgrading our systems. … So it offers long-term cost savings once it pays for itself, and a lot less service outages and service issues.”

Right now, the only internet service provider in the city is Charter Communications, also called Spectrum. And Easthampton only has copper lines, which “are expensive and not high quality,” according to Karin Moyano Camihort, director of the city’s Information Technology department.

“That became very evident during COVID, but even before COVID, when … they needed better internet in order to live in these times, to run businesses,” Moyano Camihort said.

In recent years, the city has considered running its own fiber-optic network as a business, according to Moyano Camihort.

Then, GoNetspeed approached the city with an offer.

“This is a very aggressive company, so first they came to us and they said, ‘We already applied to put our fibers in the poles… So instead of you competing with us and spending the money… we’ll put in fiber for free, and you help us move people out of Charter into the new service,’” Moyano Camihort said.

Furey said the company mainly looks to provide services in areas like Easthampton that have only a single cable provider.

GoNetSpeed is in the process of installing a fiber-optic network in Amherst. Belchertown also recently received a grant to add redundancy to the town’s fiber-optic communications system.

Digital equity

“The agreement was that they’re going to put fiber is every corner of the city, to every home,” Moyano Camihort said, adding that at the same time, the city is working to use federal funding to push forward “digital equity that is not only access to good internet services, but access at an affordable price.”

Moyano Camihort said the city is working with a consultant on digital equity planning to assess needs and determine how to get affordable internet access to those who need it most.

“We want to leverage federal money to bring more digital equity, to make sure that they go to the more poor neighborhoods of the city first, not last.”

“We are going to be well-positioned to go after that money because we have good data to demonstrate our needs, and it’s not costing us anything. And actually, I think it’s going to help us bring in more of that federal money and state money.”

Work being done

GoNetSpeed has completed all applications for pole licensing, but only some of the poles, which are all owned by Verizon, have received permits.

And since a crew is already working on installing fiber into poles in Amherst, Verizon didn’t want to hire another crew, according to Moyano Camihort.

“So in lieu of that for now, we have started doing some of the underground areas in town,” said Furey. “These areas are areas that have existing underground utilities, so there are no poles.”

Furey said the company estimates that some limited areas of service will be available by early January.

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com or on Twitter @MaddieFabian.

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