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It is important to let your friends, neighbors and customers know what a fiber network could mean to your business.

Several of the towns in our region have the opportunity to participate in the building of a regional fiber-optic network through WiredWest and MBI (the Massachusetts logoBroadband Institute, a state agency). This fiber network will connect all of the homes and businesses in the participating towns and will offer robust, high-speed internet, telephone and video services. WiredWest, a cooperative of 40+ small Western Massachusetts towns, will oversee the operation of the network once built, ensuring local control (and the creation of local jobs).

The Commonwealth has allocated $40M in public funds to help pay part of the construction costs of the regional network. The rest of the cost will need to be financed by the towns, although if the subscription rate is high enough, the network will be able to generate enough revenue to return money to the towns to cover some (or perhaps even all) of the debt service. With a sufficient subscription rate, the network would be effectively free to the towns, with no increase to the local tax rate.

What does this mean to our local businesses? A fiber network is critical infrastructure to expand the economic base of our communities. It is an enabler for small businesses and for tele-workers. It will increase home and property values. It will help attract and retain younger families, which can help counter our aging population demographics and declining school enrollments. Although Verizon DSL currently serves parts of some of our towns, DSL is not nearly as fast as fiber and is delivered over the aging copper wires that currently support our landline phones. And there is no guarantee that DSL will be around forever. There is much speculation about Verizon's long-term commitment to copper-based services, including DSL.

Which towns are participating? In the GSFABA membership area, the towns of Ashfield, Charlemont, Colrain, Hawley, Heath, Plainfield and Rowe are eligible to participate in the regional fiber network. Towns with internet service through Comcast (Buckland, Conway and Shelburne) are participating in a separate program to expand Comcast service to unserved parts of those towns. Together, these two initiatives will cover all of the GSFABA membership area.

How can businesses lead the way? Towns will be asking residents and businesses this Spring to pre-subscribe for internet service and to put down a refundable $49 deposit (to be applied to the first month's bill). Towns need to achieve a 40% pre-subscription rate to demonstrate sufficient demand. These pre-subscriptions do not have to come just from homeowners. Businesses count towards the 40%. And landlords can pre-subscribe for rental properties. A town's pre-subscription rate will also impact the build-out schedule for the network - the higher it is above 40%, the better.

It is also critically important to let your friends, neighbors and customers know what a fiber network could mean to your business. Towns will need to pass borrowing authorizations at town meeting this year in order to fund their participation in the network. Many people do not realize how many different kinds of businesses today depend on reliable, high-speed telecommunications. Economic growth is a partnership between growing our businesses and growing our local customer base, a virtuous cycle of prosperity.

Watching for mailings from your town with pre-subscription forms. Speak out about the importance of fiber networking to our future. With the state contributing $40M to help finance this regional network, this is the right time for us to make this investment.

For more information, see the WiredWest web site (www.wired-west.net) which includes a list of delegates from each town, or you can call Bob Handsaker (Charlemont) at 339-0232.

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