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Massachusetts City Braces for Broadband Competition

The Haverhill City Council president said the city needs faster and more reliable broadband service for everyone.

by Mike LaBella, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass. / December 8, 2016

(TNS) -- Haverhill, Mass., is welcoming a new high-speed broadband internet provider, while city officials discuss ways to meet the current and future broadband needs of residents and businesses.

City Council President John Michitson said Verizon Wireless recently installed 23 "small cells" (short range mobile cell sites) atop utility poles throughout the downtown, in residential neighborhoods in the center of the city, on River Street and in the Riverside neighborhood as part of its Next Generation high-speed internet service.

He said that in place of running fiber optic wires to each home, Verizon is running main fiber optic cables linked to small cells that will wirelessly provide broadband service to clusters of customers within range of each small cell.

"This saves on the installation of cables to every home," he said, noting Haverhill has nearly 35 square miles.

Michitson noted the system uses Verizon's 4G LTE cellular telephone technology to communicate with a customer's equipment.

He said he does not know if Verizon will provide internet, telephone and TV, otherwise known as "Triple Play" service.

"The capability will be there, but the question is, what will they be providing?" he said.

Michitson said the city needs faster and more reliable broadband service for everyone. For residential users, competition would drive down the cost of internet and TV service, while also providing better services to businesses, he said.

"It really provides a lot of value to education, for families and government, which are all enhanced when everyone has access," he said.

Michitson pointed out at a recent council meeting that options for residential customers in Haverhill are currently limited to Comcast. He said Comcast's Triple Play service of internet, TV and telephone charges $139 per month, compared to a similar Fios provided Triple Play service offered in Methuen for $69.99 per month.

"There's a good example of why we need competition," he said.

Comparing business offerings, he said Comcast internet offers 100 megabits per second download speed, but only 20 megabits upload speed for $189 a month to Haverhill customers, while Fios in Methuen offers 100 megabits download and upload speeds for $69.99 a month.

He said businesses in Haverhill are paying other "enterprise" vendors such as Verizon and Lightower for "unique fiber solutions" that cost $1,500 to $3,000 per month for equivalent Fios service that costs $99 per month.

Michitson has proposed the creation of a Broadband Committee to study the current and future broadband needs of customers in Haverhill, including the needs of current and future businesses that may be coming to the city.

The committee would also identify potential solutions from different vendors, with the goal of selecting the best mix for Haverhill, Michitson said.

"Another objective would be to work with Verizon on a roll-out of the small cell technology across the entire city," Michitson said.

He said he spoke to Mayor James Fiorentini last week and asked if it made sense to combine the city's Cable TV Advisory Committee with the proposed Broadband Committee. Michitson said the idea of combining the two was brought forward by Councilor Melinda Barrett, whom the mayor appointed to the TV Advisory Committee.

"The mayor said he would consider it," Michitson said. "I'm trying to get a Broadband Committee off the ground and the mayor said he would appoint such a committee."

©2016 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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