Saying the time is now, the Haverhill City Council approved a request Tuesday night asking Mayor James. J. Fiorentini to spend $20,000 on a citywide interim broadband master plan aimed at providing faster and lower cost internet service for residents and businesses.
Councilor John A. Michitson, a longtime advocate for a state-of-the-art fiber optic network for Haverhill, spearheaded the request. He said the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting need for remote learning made it clear just how important a fast, low cost, reliable internet service is for the city.
“Schools depend heavily on reliable and effective internet access from remote learning and that could be helpful during other disasters. Remote working for two- to three-days-per-week for 40% of the workforce has advanced 10 years and the pandemic has really pushed it forward. Telehealth has really become critical especially for mental health services. I mean, it’s changing that whole dynamic of how people get therapy,” he explained.
Michitson was joined by Council President Melinda E. Barrett and Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua. The Council has been communicating with Entry Point Networks of Idaho, which created a high-speed, low cost, fiber optic network, currently being developed in Quincy and Fairfield, Mass. Entry Point President Jeff Christensen told the Council getting the program underway depends on how quickly the cities can respond.
“A fast timeline is three months. A normal timeline is six months and a slow timeline is nine months. So, that’s your range. We’re doing a project right now for Bristol, Conn. I think they will finish it in three months,” he said.
Michitson says this type of network has the potential for a 30% reduction in monthly broadband costs right from the start, with additional cost savings once network costs are covered. He said it would also make Haverhill a stronger contender for attracting large companies looking to move away from big cities like Boston and New York.
Michitson also pointed out the need to get citizens involved as soon as possible in order to be “shovel ready” if and when the federal government makes funds available for fiber optic networks. He also advocated for working with neighboring cities and towns to provide a regional network. He said the interim broadband master plan would be a solid first step in making the network a reality.