Springfield explores municipal fiber-to-the-home internet network

Springfield explores municipal fiber-to-the-home internet network

SPRINGFIELD — The city will study the feasibility of establishing its own fiber-to-the-home internet network, Mayor Domenic J. Sarno’s office said Wednesday.

Sarno’s office issued a news release following a meeting with City Councilor Jesse Lederman and city department heads. Lederman said he expects a request for proposals to go out soon so the city can start learning from potential customers about what internet services are needed and at what price point.

The coronavirus pandemic prompted widespread working from home and remote learning. Now, the availability of federal funds in the federal American Rescue Plan and a potential federal infrastructure package make this a good time to explore the long-talked-about goal, he said.

“Now is the time to ‘set the table’ in anticipation of the federal infrastructure bill/funding coming forward,” Sarno said in a news release. “In my conversations with Congressman (Richard E.) Neal and his continued bipartisan efforts, he/we feel very optimistic on this coming to fruition.”

Neal, D-Springfield, is chairman of the house Ways and Means Committee. He helped write the American Rescue Plan and has championed the infrastructure plan as a job creator in Massachusetts.

Municipal broadband is also growing, with Chicopee, South Hadley and Agawam rolling out programs, Lederman said. Westfield has a well-developed program in Whip City Fiber, and it has helped develop systems in rural hilltowns.

In June, the West Springfield Town Council approved a municipal broadband project. Residents of certain streets in the Mittineague and Tatham neighborhoods will be the first connected to a municipal system run through Whip City Fiber. West Springfield’s municipal broadband pilot will cost $1.8 million.

“We need to make sure that the city of Springfield remains competitive for residents and businesses,” Lederman said. “We also want to have a focus on equity and access in our program.”

It’s complicated in Springfield because the city has no municipal light and power system, so it doesn’t have the poles and infrastructure of a Westfield or a South Hadley. Also, infrastructure is inconsistent among the 16 city neighborhoods.

“Really it is planning for the future,” Lederman said.

Sheehan said in a news release: “Superfast fiber broadband has the potential to transform cities. Advancing a feasibility study now to assess how best to advance this effort in Springfield will position the city well for future federal and state funding opportunities for this type of infrastructure. By providing the ability to connect to the internet at high speed, our city’s citizens, businesses and the wider community all benefit through greater choice and faster access to services and information.”

Springfield chief information officer Andrew Doty, who has helped establish municipal Wi-Fi, said the project is still in the fact-finding stage.

“The information obtained through a feasibility study could be very valuable in understanding the needs of the constituents of the City relative to internet and broadband needs,” he said in a news release. “With this, the City of Springfield could gauge whether or not the needs of constituents are being met with existing privately held infrastructure or should the City explore implementing its own and offer services directly and/or open the fiber network to other businesses. As this is an open network, businesses could offer their services (telecom, internet, TV, etc.) without worrying about the connectivity to homes or businesses.”