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Mason’s DSL access set to improve with more fiber

  • Bill Schongar of Mason conducts a speed test on his home computer, showing speeds of about 1 megabyte uploads and 2 megabyte downloads. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/2/2019 5:58:18 PM

About 70 Mason households are expected to get access to increased internet service by the end of this year, with an extension of Consolidated Communications’ DSL lines.

DSL, or digital subscriber line, will be a step up for many residents of the northern end of Mason, said resident Bill Schongar, a member of a community group who has been leading the charge in meeting with Consolidated Communications and advocating for better internet speeds.

Between now and December, Consolidated Communications will be building new DSL connections for particularly underserved sections of town, where some households have been relying on satellite Internet service. About 70 households will see an upgrade, Schongar said.

“Since we’re a town of about 600 households, it’s a significant portion,” he said. “Not being connected in the internet age just isn’t acceptable anymore. We’ve had new houses built, and then people learn there’s no cable, no options, for students, for people who work from home, that’s a big issue. It’s almost an untenable situation.”

For many people, the upgrades will provide more speed, better reliability and reduce latency – meaning less lag on things like video chat or online games.

“In most cases, it’ll be like night and day,” Schongar said.

Schongar and his group are also still continuing discussions with Consolidated Communications to continue to improve internet speeds in Mason. A recently passed bill at the state level may present a solution.

In 2018, the state passed SB 170, a bill which allows towns to pass bonds to improve their internet infrastructure for areas of town that are underserved – in this case, defined as having speeds less than 25 megabytes per second for downloads and three megabytes per second for uploads – in a public-private partnership with Internet providers.

Despite the relative newness of the law, some municipalities have already taken advantage of it, and several more are exploring the option.

Rob Koester, vice president of Consumer Product Management for Consolidated Communications, said the company has already worked with Chesterfield to expand its high-speed internet using bonding. The town passed a $1.8 million bond for new infrastructure for fiber-based internet. Instead of being paid back through the tax rate, the bond is paid through a monthly infrastructure fee added to subscriber’s bills. The fee can be no more than $10 per month. 

A similar deal could be worked out in Mason, since the town’s rural nature and spread-out residences make it an unlikely candidate for expensive fiber upgrades, which would drastically improve Internet speeds – up to a Gigabyte per second for both upload and download speeds. 

Koester said he’s been working with Mason representatives, including Schongar, on the first steps of a bonding solution, through it’s not guaranteed Consolidated Communications would be the final candidate for a fiber build-out in town. If Mason moves forward with a bond, it would put out a request for proposals and receive bids from several internet providers. In the meantime, the town would have to create a broadband map, identifying the homes which fall short of the upload and download speeds identified as “underserved” in SB 170.

While fiber may not be the only solution for Mason, its likely to be the most cost-effective for providers, Koester said, while also dramatically improving service.

In an urban environment, to install a mile of fiber, it would cost the provider around $7,000-$10,000 per mile. In a rural environment, particularly in a town like Mason where the geography can be challenging, the cost is more like $30,000-$50,000. It’s also more expensive for rural users to hook into that network – a cost of about $3,000-$5,000, compared to an urban user, which would cost between $800-$1,100.

Because a rural network is always going to be expensive, Koester said its generally most cost-effective to do a fiber build-out and provide the best service available.

“Based on what we’ve seen  with other towns, fiber’s going to be the first choice,” Koester said. 

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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