City Utility to Launch High-Speed Internet Service
The Westfield Gas & Electric Department has been in the telecommunication field for nearly 20 years, using those facilities for its own internal communication, as well as all municipal and school departments and for some of the larger commercial customers. The utility, over the past year and a half, has been assessing the potential of expanding its telecommunication capability by extending high-speed fiber-optic service directly to the public consumer.
Westfield, like a growing number of U.S. cities including Chattanooga, Tennessee, Longmont, Colorado and Wilson, North Carolina, is about to expand into a “Gigabit City”. Whip City Fiber will bring fiber optic high-speed Internet service directly to your home or business from Westfield Gas and Electric (WG+E),” General Manager Dan Howard said recently.
“We’re at a crossroad with the existing system,” Howard said. “People want more bandwidth so, with Whip City Fiber, we’re providing a big informationpipe to provide our customers with high-speed internet access at a speed that exceeds anything being offered in the area and at a price that is advantageous to both residential and business customers.”
Optical fiber is a hair-thin piece of glass that is specially designed to transmit light impulses. One small fiber can carry multiple signals and the signal does not degrade over long distances. Unlike coaxial cable that is typically used by cable companies, performance is not affected by interference or shared bandwidth. "The fiber optic network is the next generation of high-speed connectivity for homes and businesses and can currently provide two-way transmission speeds in excess of 1 gigabit per second or more” said Telecomm Superintendent Tom Balukonis.
Howard said the Whip City Fiber service “will mirror what we currently do on the electric and gas side of the department with a focus on service and reliability at a very competitive price. “Technology is flying so fast that many people can’t keep up with it. There are so many possibilities so, in part, it’s about educating the public,” Howard said. “We’re planning for tomorrow’s (technology and communication) culture.
“One of the things we’re planning is to not have contracts because we have confidence that our system can stand on its own,” Howard said. “We’ll offer speeds 10 times faster than what is out there now.” The WG&E contracted with a market research firm to conduct a survey evaluating the level of interest in an alternative high-speed internet, telephone and television capacity in Westfield. The utility then formed a team of utility and telecommunication experts to develop a business plan. Team members visited other municipal telecommunication utilities to gain insight and understanding into how existing fiber business could successfully be expanded here in Westfield.
“Knowing we already had the skills, resources and success in providing reliable and competitively-priced Internet service, the decision was made to focus on that product only. Data is strong showing that many are foregoing the use of landlines for telephone communications. In addition, television viewing is transitioning to an on-demand model where viewers are choosing what, when and where they wish to watch programming,” Howard said. The evaluation team determined that full scale deployment into high speed Internet service would necessitate enormous time and capital and suggested developing Whip City Fiber as a pilot project.
The pilot program will be launched to a group of approximately 300 residential and business customers. And, with an eye to offering competitive yet simple-to-understand terms, Whip City Fiber will offer two tiers of service (depending upon speed desired) with no contract term required. “A tremendous amount of discussion and investigation went into defining the pilot area” stated Operations Manager Aaron Bean. “We wanted to pick an area that would challenge our abilities, as far as construction goes, to make sure we were adequately prepared should this pilot project prove as successful as we believe it will.”
The pilot area and customer group was identified in an area of Westfield that represents a truly diverse environment with existing overhead and underground utilities, commercial and residential customers, private, city and state properties, and a broad range of customer demographics. Located in the vicinity of Route 20/East Mountain Road, the plan is to begin offering Whip City Fiber to the homes and businesses in that specific target area.
“Eligible customers in the pilot area will soon be notified of their opportunity to sign up. Construction and installation of equipment will also begin shortly. If, after an evaluation period, it appears that the program is deemed successful, we will ramp up our plans for a larger rollout,” Howard said. “We believe that the availability of Whip City Fiber will be a catalyst to drive further economic development in the City. The City, together with its businesses and residents, has been asking for this service and we are excited that we can deliver another product with the superior service and competitive rates that our customers have come to expect from WG+E.”