The Wellesley Municipal Light Plant (MLP) on Monday, July 30 will make a recommendation to its Board to offer internet service to commercial entities in town as the next step toward moving the program from pilot to permanent status.
The pilot program participants — Keynectup; Unitarian Universalist Society; Cat’s Hospital; several town departments; Dana Hall; Hayes Management; and Wellesley College Investment Office — have since March 2017 enjoyed super-fast internet as the town tried out the idea of providing its own service to those looking to cut ties to Comcast, Verizon, and other providers. If the Board okays the request for an expanded roll-out, the MLP will launch full service to even more commercial customers.
MLP Director Dick Joyce says, “We’re currently fine tuning our business model… Our overall approach is to be as risk-averse as possible so we’ll minimize initial one-time, capital costs by concentrating on specific areas of Town.” Namely, those specific commercial areas where the MLP has existing fiber available.
For now, the MLP is not talking about expanding the program to residents, but that may change in the future as they continue to work out their business model. “Because fiber is readily available in commercial districts we’ll continue to focus just on businesses for the foreseeable future. This concentration provides us with the most risk-averse strategy which is preferred by the Light Board” Joyce says. Right now the town uses a single connection from Needham, but if service is offered to all commercial customers the town will finalize an agreement in place for a second completely independent feed from Cambridge.
Of course, when it comes to internet service, everyone knows it’s all about the need for speed. Wellesley Free Library Director Jamie Jurgensen says, “Prior to the pilot program, librarians would field questions about why our service was so slow at peak time periods. Since utilizing MLP’s service, we haven’t had those questions.”
That’s because the program has been able to provide participants with symmetrical speeds exceeding 900 Mbps to all participants. These speeds have made the program so popular that so far all nine pilot participants asked to continue. The heaviest users, Dana Hall, the Library, Wellesley College Investment Office, and Hayes Management, reported that their upload and download speeds approached 1 Gbps. Joyce said, “If the MLP receives approval from the board, the critical timeline will be getting a second independent connection via Cambridge so we can offer the most reliable service possible. We expect that will take around 45 days so best case scenario we would offer internet service around October 1st, more likely November 1st though.”
Library IT Director Inna Ivers offers these numbers: “Before the MLP pilot, the library offered speeds up to 100 Mbps. The MLP pilot made it possible for the library to offer speeds up to 1 Gbps. Our patrons are much happier with the new speed and we are thrilled to be a part of this project.”
Jurgensen says, “Participating in the pilot program allowed the library to provide much faster Internet service to patrons. MLP worked diligently with the library to provide successful solutions that integrated their service with our complex library network. We experience outages with our previous provider. At the beginning of the pilot program, we experienced few outages as the new service was being installed. The response times to address out outages were vastly different, however — with MLP responding to any issues immediately.”
As for costs, the town hasn’t differentiated between capital and operating costs but Joyce says the MLP’s total internet costs over the approximately two years from inception have been approximately $200,000.” For pilot program customers, that has meant neither less expensive nor more expensive service since all participants were asked to keep their original internet providers as a back-up. Going forward, the MLP expects to bill at a rate comparable to or slightly less than that of other providers.
The MLP does not need to ask the town for funds to move forward on this project, estimated to cost about $7,500/month for the first year. “This project is 100% financed from MLP non-operating profits and doesn’t require any funding from the Town or electric ratepayers. We plan to ramp-up slowly if the Light Board approves our recommendation,” Joyce says.