A house in Leverett, Massachusetts, home to 1,876 people. Image: Doug Kerr/Flickr
This article has been updated since its initial publication, and corrected at the end of the post.
A few more households may be all a small town fiber network in Massachusetts needs to beat Google Fiber at its own game. The catch is that it’s a really small town, even by Google Fiber standards.
LeverettNet currently charges $24.95 per month for an internet-only, 1 gigabit per second connection. There’s also a $49.95 monthly cost to cover the maintenance for the Leverett Municipal Light Plant (LMLP), the governmental entity that builds and operates the town’s fiber infrastructure, bringing the cost to about $75 for internet-only subscribers, a cut above Google Fiber’s $70 monthly price for its 1 gigabit service.
However, the Leverett Broadband Committee notes that the LMLP maintenance costs are divided between the number of subscribers, and could be lowered as more households subscribe,meaningit could one day reach a price that’s equal to or less than Google Fiber.
Leverett’s service was made possible by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, the organization that extended a 1,200 mile fiber optic network into Western Massachusetts. Leverett was also once part of WiredWest, a coalition of 43 member towns that have pledged to fill the last mile to consumers in places that would otherwise go ignored or underserved by traditional broadband providers.
Leverett’s local paper The Recorder reports that the adoption rate for its broadband service has been massive. Eighty-one percent of households have taken up LeverettNet, and the response from residents has been positive, with Massachusetts Broadband Institute director Eric Nakajima saying residents were happy to go from “Stone-Age dial-up speeds” to “having the fastest residential service anywhere in Massachusetts.”
But the network, like so many other potential municipal broadband providers, could have been stopped short by legislation or by lack of funding, as house Republicans have firmly signaled that they’re not in favor of small government taking things into their own hands (you can probably guess that big telecom companies have a hand in this). Thankfully, Massachusetts legislature thought digital infrastructure was every bit as important as physical infrastructure.
As for funding, Leverett voted 90 percent in favor of a property tax increase to help offset costs, and the network is financed through a combination of state grants, taxes, subscriptions, and funding through the Massachusetts Broadband Institute.
Access to broadband has become something of a perennial problem for far-flung rural Americans, especially poorer ones that may have been displaced from better-served cities. But in places where municipal broadband isn’t just possible, but already happening, this bit of news should be a sign that things aren’t all bleak in the world of rural internet access.
Correction, Dec. 16: The initially reported speed of 2 gigabits per second was inaccurate, per a clarification with Denzel Hankinson, chair of the Leverett Municipal Light Plant (LMLP).
The LMLP, the plant that provides the fiber connections to internet service provider LeverettNet, will be increasing the bandwidth of its “point of presence,” or access node, to 2 gigabits in order to handle increased demand and network traffic. From there, the speeds passed from LeverettNet to consumers—the "last mile" part of the connection—will remain at 1 gigabit per second.
Motherboard also reported that LeverettNet customers currently pay $44.95 per month for a gigabit connection, which would be lowered to $39.95 a month in January. However, this cost refers to a combined telephone and internet subscription, and not an internet-only subscription. The cost of an internet-only subscription remains $24.95 per month.
An additional $49.95 per month LMLP maintenance cost also applies, and was not acknowledged in the initial report. But as the town broadband committee notes, this LMLP cost will go down as more people subscribe to LeverettNet services. It’s quite possible that one day those prices will beat out Google Fiber’s $70/month 1 gigabit service, as nearly 20 percent of the town has yet to subscribe. Today, however, is not that day (LeverettNet currently costs about $75 for an internet-only connection). The headline has been corrected to reflect this, and Motherboard regrets the error.
Correction, Dec. 17: A previous version of this article indicated that Leverett is a member of WiredWest, a grassroots organization for community-owend fiber optic networks. While Leverett was at one point a member, Denzel Hankinson, chair of the Leverett Municipal Light Plant (LMLP, has clarified that Leverett has since withdrawn.