Editorial: The Plainfield advantage

In our last post, we posted that the town of Plainfield, Massachusetts, population under 1000, approved the construction of a municipal network. It should be finished in early 2020. Residents will have 1 gigabit per second fiber to the home for $85/month. There are also business plans, ranging from $100 to $800 per month depending on the number of users. All business plans cover up to a terabyte of bandwidth per month. All subscribers will have symmetrical access, which means their upload speeds will match their download speeds.

If you think about it, this is pretty remarkable.

  • Consider what it means to have 1 gigabit per second upload speed. Those video uploads to YouTube, Facebook and Instagram which can crawl here in Northampton where even on Comcast’s “high-speed” network, you typically can’t upload at more than 10 megabits per second. Residents and businesses in Plainfield will be able to upload content 100-200 times faster than most of us here in Northampton. If you wanted to start a medical imaging business in Plainfield, transferring huge digital datasets like MRIs and such will be fast and completely viable.
  • Consider Plainfield’s location. It’s arguably located in the middle of nowhere in Western Massachusetts. It’s as close to Pittsfield as it is to Northampton. And yet this little town will have some of the highest speed connectivity available anywhere locally.
  • There’s not a whole lot of business in Plainfield … yet. It’s basically rural but perhaps a lot less so in their future. That’s because they will be connected to the rest of the world with a big, fat digital pipe. If you like rural living, but don’t want to feel at a digital disadvantage, well, you won’t!
  • The $85/month rate in Plainfield is a bit higher than the $70-$75/month charged by other municipal networks for similar services, probably because of the extra cost to string cable out to the town. But consider how much less housing costs in Plainfield compared to Northampton. According to Trulia.com, the average price of a house in Northampton is $365,000. The average price for a house in Plainfield is $138,462. You could live much more cheaply in Plainfield. Its lower cost of living would easily pay for the $10-$15 extra you would pay for a municipal network in Northampton, if we had one. We don’t have one. Right now, you can get “up to” 1 gigabit per second download from Comcast for $104.95/month. As for 1 gigabit upload … forget about it. It’s not available for residents from Comcast and probably never will be, as they would have to rearchitect their entire network!

Plainfield’s leap of faith into its digital future is common sense. Plainfield is likely to benefit handsomely by being one of the first small towns to market offering service like this in Western Massachusetts. Lots of towns and cities locally understand these advantages and are working to create their own municipal networks. While their property values are considered modest, with the addition of their high-speed digital network available to all homes, it’s easy to bet property values will be going up. Real estate prospectors might want to invest in Plainfield now.

Let’s hope here in Northampton we get started sooner rather than later. The vibrant Northampton of the future depends on it.

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