Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rural Broadband - Holland, Massachusetts

The Springfield (MA) Sunday Republican runs a Q&A piece every week titled Just Ask. this past Sunday a woman who lives in Holland, MA posted a pretty interesting question. Before we get to the question though, let's take a quick look at Holland (source Wikipedia). According to the United States Census Bureau
  • The town has a total area of 13.1 square miles (33.9 km²), of which, 12.4 square miles (32.1 km²) of it is land and 0.7 square miles (1.8 km²) of it (5.34%) is water. 
  • As of the census of 2000, there were 2,407 people, 898 households, and 668 families residing in the town. The population density was 194.2 people per square mile (75.0/km²). There were 1,317 housing units at an average density of 106.3 per square mile (41.0/km²). 
  • The median income for a household in the town was $52,073, and the median income for a family was $57,024.
  • Holland has it's own elementary school but is considering merging its elementary school with the town of Wales. Holland students attend Tantasqua Regional Junior High School (grades 7-8) and Tantasqua Regional High School in Sturbridge.
A typical rural New England town that can be compared to likely hundreds of other rural communities across the U.S. Now for the newspaper reader question.
Question: Is it true that Verizon Communications does not have fiberoptics in my home area, Holland, and that there are no plans to install same? What I have now is a dial-up modem with Verizon, and it is very slow. It takes 10 full minutes for me to access my checking account online, after four screen changes. I understand the need for security, but this is ridiculous. I’m a teacher and need to cover a lot of ground on the Internet in a single day. At such snail speeds, I’m limited to very few online tasks like collecting emails. Over the past three years I have made numerous calls to Verizon service to ask if I could sign-up for high-speed Internet service, and the answer was always “no.” 
In this year of speed-of-light communications, do I have any other options? 
– Kathleen McGrory, Holland 
And the answer from reporter Jim Kinney:
Answer: While it is true Verizon does not offer DSL service for people in your area of Holland, there are other options available. Cox Communications, Holland’s cable provider, does offer provide high-speed Internet in this area. Since you sent us this inquiry, we understand you signed up with Cox’s Broadband service and can now quickly access your checkbook online. Welcome to the 21st century, Kathleen. 
Verizon spokesman Philip G. Santoro said, “There just aren’t enough customers there (for Verizon) to justify the expense.” He suggested people like you contact their local cable operator.  He also pointed out that there is a third option, and that is Verizon Wireless’ 3G coverage, which would provide high-speed Internet through cell phone coverage.
Many small rural towns in the U.S. do not have any option except dial-up. It is upsetting to read the Verizon spokesman's honest answer regarding high speed landline based service in Holland. Nothing against Verizon - it's the frustrating reality of situations across our country. From a business perspective it does not make sense for a traditional telephone company to offer high-speed data service in a town like Holland. With current data caps in place from Verizon Wireless and other providers I don't see 3G (or upcoming 4G) services as a competitive alternative. 

Holland residents are fortunate they do have a cable option. Many similar communities in our country are stuck with dial-up as their only option.

9/14/11 at 7:28 PM
This comment came in from retired Cable Executive Steven Solomon via Google+.

Gordon, I would add this comment to your post. What is often invisible to the public is the real demographics of a community like Holland. I know about this first hand. I helped negotiate the cable TV franchise with the town on the part of the predecessor provider to Cox, Continental Cablevision.

As of 1994, of the 2,400 or so residents of the town, only about 600 homeowners lived in their homes all year round. The rest kept their residences as vacation or second homes. This put the full-time residents at a great disadvantage in getting broadband by landline of any sort.

Putting in broadband plant at about $20G a mile is not a reasonable business proposition for the private sector if the company is relying only on the margin earned from Internet (which now competes with phone and cable TV). Thus, I don't see any alternative to the private sector stepping in with the 21st century equivalent of rural electrification.


Anonymous said...

True, I live in city that can be compared to Holland. We are looking for a GOOD/FAST communication infrastructure for almost 3 years. I need internet for my business, so I hope that there will be a change in the next year.

Unknown said...

There is always the satellite option, not high speed cable or fiber, however, compared to dial up, it's a dream.