SPRINGFIELD – The city will study the feasibility of establishing its own fiber-optic internet network to the home, the office of Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said on Wednesday.
Sarno’s office issued a press release following a meeting with City Councilor Jesse Lederman and city department heads. Lederman said he expects a request for proposals to be issued soon so the city can start learning from potential customers what internet services are needed and at what cost.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to the spread of working from home and distance learning. Now, the availability of federal funds in the US federal bailout and a possible federal infrastructure package make it 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,” Sarno said in a press release. “In my conversations with Congressman (Richard E.) Neal and his continued bipartisan efforts, he / we are very optimistic that this achievement will come to fruition.”
Neal, D-Springfield, is chairman of the house ways and means committee. He helped draft the US bailout and 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 he has helped develop systems in rural hill towns.
In June, West Springfield City Council approved a municipal broadband project. Residents of certain streets in the Mittineague and Tatham neighborhoods will be the first to be connected to a municipal system through Whip City Fiber. The West Springfield Municipal Broadband Pilot Project will cost $ 1.8 million.
“We need to make sure the city of Springfield remains competitive for residents and businesses,” Lederman said. “We also want to emphasize equity and access in our program.”
It’s complicated in Springfield because the city doesn’t have a municipal lighting and electrical system, so it doesn’t have the poles and infrastructure of a Westfield or a South Hadley. In addition, the infrastructure is inconsistent between the 16 districts of the city.
“Really, it’s planning for the future,” Lederman said.
Sheehan said in a press release, “Ultra-fast fiber broadband has the potential to transform cities. Advancing a feasibility study now to assess how best to move this effort forward 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 high-speed Internet, our city’s citizens, businesses and the community at large all benefit from greater choice and faster access to services and information.
Springfield Chief Information Officer Andrew Doty, who helped establish municipal Wi-Fi, said the project was still in the fact-finding phase.
“The information obtained through a feasibility study could be very valuable in understanding the needs of the city’s voters with regard to internet and broadband needs,” he said in a press release. “With this, the City of Springfield could assess whether or not the needs of voters are being met with existing private infrastructure or whether the city should consider implementing its own and offering services directly and / or opening the fiber optic network to other companies. As it is an open network, businesses could offer their services (telecom, internet, TV, etc.) without worrying about connectivity to homes or businesses.