Fiber expanding in downtown Great Barrington; officials tout economic impact
Great Barrington — Downtown Great Barrington is being lit up. No, not by the cobra-headed streetlights on Main Street, but by super-high-speed broadband from a local company.
As promised, Fiber Connect of the Berkshires, an ISP start-up founded in 2014 and based in Monterey, has begun preparing downtown for high-speed internet service. Town Hall was one of the first to see the new service.
In addition, Fiber Connect has wired a number of other buildings in the downtown service area including Castle Street, Railroad Street and the west side of Main Street from Castle to Elm streets. East side work is pending, town officials announced in a news release today.
Town officials framed it as an advancement for Great Barrington’s economy:
“Economic development in downtown Great Barrington has yet another boost: newly installed fiber-optic high-speed internet service is now an option for a number of downtown business and residential customers,” the release said.
See video below of town planner Chris Rembold updating the selectboard on the downtown streets improvement project and selectman Ed Abrahams’ update on broadband (fast forward to 5:30 for the latter):
“Those of you using your devices right now are on fiber,” selectboard member Ed Abrahams told those who attended last week’s board meeting. “Is that exciting? It’s here in Town Hall. All of the investment has been by private money. There has been no tax money or town money to do this buildout.”
Abrahams worked with Tim Newman of WiredWest, a cooperative of town municipal light plants that offer fiber, to entice Fiber Connect to wire the core of downtown with fiber-optic lines that will bring standard download speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second. Fiber Connect has also wired significant portions of Monterey and Egremont. Click here to see where.
The board authorized Abrahams in 2017 to perform research on what options Great Barrington might have to bring broadband to the town that’s faster and more affordable than what Charter-Spectrum cable typically offers. Click here to see the options they explored.
Robin’s Candy was one of the first businesses to be hooked up on Main Street. Owner Robin Helfand told The Edge she has been excited by not only the speeds but the reliability, both of which are far superior to what she had with Verizon DSL.
“Terrific, in a word. I literally went from as many as 15 outages in a day to—I’ve had maybe three in the entire couple of months of Fiber Connect,” Helfand said in an interview. “I had problems upgrading credit card equipment, filling online orders, you name it. [Fiber Connect] is worth every penny.”
Fiber Connect CEO Adam Chait could not be reached for comment but Abrahams said this week that Saint James Place and the Mahaiwe Block will also be lit up. A spare underground conduit on Railroad Street will be used to bring the line up that street.
Newman and Abrahams discovered that, as a result of the $6 million Main Street reconstruction project of 2014–16, there was supposed to be a utility box at the corner of Railroad and Main streets. Workers removed it “at the last minute,” Abrahams explained, but the empty conduit that runs under the street remains and can still be used.
By the end of the summer, service is expected to be extended to the Mason Library and the town water department, known as the Great Barrington Fire District, on East Street, Abrahams said.
“If we see a good sign-up rate downtown, we will expand north and south of town,” Chait said in the town’s news release.
Abrahams said there has been some talk of extending the Fiber Connect service to the Housatonic section of Great Barrington, but that would cost almost $200,000—an investment the company is not ready to make.
Nevertheless, fiber in Housatonic could go a long way toward boosting the business community in the village, which is dotted with underused former paper mills and an abandoned school. Recent activity at the mills has been encouraging, especially with the opening of the Studio for Integrated Craft in the former Housatonic Curtain Company mill at 430 Park St.
“I think with things moving in Housatonic with the mills, the customer base will be there,” town manager Jennifer Tabakin said.
“If you could take the gas line up there at the same time, we’re in business,” Abrahams said, referring to the need for natural gas service in the village. Berkshire Gas has told the group trying to revive the former Housatonic School that such an extension would likely cost between $2 million and $3 million.
Fiber Connect’s rates are competitive with Charter-Spectrum’s. The standard residential price is $99 per month with a three-year commitment and a $999 installation fee. The download speed is as high as 1 gigabit per second, with upload speeds at about 25 percent of that, or 250 megabits per second. Business class service costs $149 per month with a $999 installation fee and a three-year agreement. Click here for the full rundown.
Charter-Spectrum, the unpopular cable television behemoth that serves most of Berkshire County, offers an entry-level cable download speed in Great Barrington of 100 mbps (about one-tenth of Fiber Connect’s). Faster download speeds are available from Charter, with an “Ultra Tier” of 400 mbps.
Spectrum Internet Gig and Spectrum Business Internet Gig, which have roughly the same download speed as Fiber Connect, are available for residential and business customers in the Berkshires.
Internet Gig costs $104.99 per month for new residential customers; the regular price is $125.99 per month. Business Internet Gig is $249.99 for new customers, while the regular price is $299.99 per month. The top download speed for customers from their modems is currently 940 mbps, with the upload speed at 35 mbps, Spectrum spokesman Andrew Russell told The Edge.
Verizon DSL service is less expensive than either Fiber Connect or Spectrum but offers speeds that are a fraction of either. Verizon’s internet service in Great Barrington is often reported to be unreliable.