Broadband FAQ’s

Broadband Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQ's)

Definitions and Comments


Why is there all this discussion about Internet and Internet speeds all of a sudden?


 Broadband -- Currently the fastest type of Internet delivery system available to the general public.  The speed ranges from 25 Mbps to well over 1 Gbps.

Mbps -- Megabits per second, a measure of relatively fast Internet speed, mainly in the Broadband range, as in 25 Mbps, or 25 Megabits per second.
Gbps -- Gigabits per second, a measure of ultrafast Internet speeds, as in 2 Gigs per second.
, a measure of slower Internet speeds, as in 128 Kbps, or 128 Kilobits per second.
1 Mb = 1000 Kb;
1 Gb = 1000 Mb. 

Bit -- The basic measure of computer data, and the smallest.
Byte -- A packet of 8 (eight) bits.
Note that it is easy to confuse bits and bytes.  To convert bits to bytes, divide the number of bits X 8.  Conversely, to go from bytes to bits,  multiply the number of  bytes X 8.  
 To help relieve the confusion somewhat, Bytes are most often used to measure data amounts rather than speeds, and are usually referred to in notations by use of a capital ‘B’, as in KB. 
1 KB = 1000 Bytes.

DSL -- Digital Subscriber Line (originally Digital Subscriber Loop) is a family of technologies that are used to provide Internet access by transmitting digital data over (copper) telephone lines. 

Fiber-Optic Cable – Special electronic cables fabricated from glass or plastic that are specifically designed to carry voice and transmit data signals over long distances at high speeds using patterns of light rather than electrical impulses.  The initial transmission speed is said to be the speed of light.  That speed degrades with distance, splices, line splits and the number of devices and users on the line, but it is still many times faster than other transmission methods.  Fiber-optic technology also has much greater capacity for expansion without adding new cable.


Need more of your questions answered about fiber-based Broadband Internet and WiredWest? The WiredWest website has an extensive FAQ section.  Go HERE.

On the Other Hand . . . As expensive as the cable build-out may be, WiredWest's pricing for the Broadband Internet service itself is highly competitive. 

Here, in part, is their offering:

Internet SpeedMonthly Fee
25 Mbps $49 / mo.
100 Mbps Superfast$79 / mo.
1 Gigabit Ultrafast$109 / mo.

NO Data Cap

The Tiny 10

Hawley is one of ten Western Massachusetts Towns which, because of low population density, have received WiredWest/MBI cost allocations for building their part of the network that are higher than the per-household average for all Towns -- in some cases by over twice as much.

This burden is both unfair and impossible to bear for these Towns.  They have joined together to ask their State legislators to seek supplementary funding to level the playing field so that they have at least an even chance as participants in the fiber-optic cable network.

The steps taken by the Tiny 10 and the results of their efforts will be reported here.

JUST IN FROM MBI -- MBI has just issued a handbook for Towns interested in doing their own "Last Mile" build-outs.  For a copy, click HERE.

40% SIGNUP TALLY -- Each WiredWest Town must reach a 40% "take rate" (i.e., at least 40% of the Town's households must sign up) in order to qualify to be a part of "last mile" iimplementation. 
HERE to find out which WiredWest towns have met their 40% signup quota. 

And HERE for some commentary on one of those that has exceeded it.


Actually, the conversation has been building momentum for the past seven years.  People in the Hilltowns have been struggling with poor to mediocre Internet performance for well over a decade, via dialup and the early versions of satellite-based Internet.  DSL, which was introduced to this area in the 1990's, offered some early hope, but never made it very far up into the hills, and now is beginning to suffer from obsolescence and diminishing availability.  Wireless, cell-based systems have been introduced, but their performance has been spotty and their reliability has been questionable at best.

Seven factors have brought the issue of Broadband to a head now:

1.) Major funding has been introduced by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts via the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) to bring fiber-optic technology to the Western part of the State;

2.) A cooperative organization WiredWest (WW) -- has been formed with the support of 32 Massachusetts towns and a highly-qualified staff of volunteers with wide-ranging experience in financial services, marketing, I.T., website and Internet systems design, business ownership, project management, cable television and construction. This team has won the respect of MBI.  MBI in turn has agreed to turn the network over to WiredWest once it is built.  In addition, the WW team has put the structure in place at the Town level to ensure that the participating Towns can share financially in the network's success;

3.) New, low-cost, high-density computer and video technology is rapidly gaining in popularity -- which is making higher Internet speeds both more necessary and more viable;

4.) Real opportunities now exist with schools and firms throughout the US for people in the Hilltowns to increase their skill levels and improve their earnings while living remotely;

5.) Files are getting larger and larger.  Millions of documents and countless billions of pictures and other images are being sent back and forth every day via Internet between people and corporations all over the world.  The only way to accommodate this exploding volume of data is for the Internet systems that handle them to run faster;

6.) The world is increasing its reliance on the Internet.  It permeates almost everything we do, and being able to use it efficiently has become critically important to many people;

7.) Data-sharing has become a major feature of the lifestyle of the young.  This trend is not going to reverse itself any time soon, and if we want to keep our children nearby, or to attract younger couples to come, buy or build houses and settle in our Towns, then we need to provide them with the tools that are central to their lives.


We hear the terms "High Speed Internet" and “Broadband” being used interchangeably.   Are they really referring to the same thing?


No, they are not -- even though some marketeers and "solution providers" would like us to believe that they are.  As data speeds and requirements have climbed, a need has arisen to sort the definitions into levels.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently upgraded the definition of Broadband to speeds of 25 Mbps and greater, making the minimum speed for Broadband now five times faster than it was just a year ago.  High Speed Internet is now  defined as anything from the low end of the DSL range (128 Kbps) up to 24 Mbps.


OK, but all these numbers don't mean much to a non-technical person.  How fast is fast?


Think of it this way:  In terms of data speed, Dialup is like a Biplane, High-Speed is like a Jet, and Broadband is like a Rocket.


Dialup:  A Biplane
Top speed: 125 mph


High-Speed:  A Jet
Top speed: 1,400 mph


Broadband:  A Rocket
Orbit Speed: 17,640 mph


Why is speed so important?


Because higher speed is how the Internet handles the HUGE amounts of data that are currently being transmitted over it every day:

►According to a report by Cisco Systems, Inc., the amount of data flowing through the Internet will have almost tripled in the six years between 2013 and 2018. reports that the average size of major web pages has also tripled, in just four years – from 507 KB per page in 2010 to 1,622 KB (more than one Megabyte) in 2014.

►With the rapid proliferation of more user-friendly ways to create, secure, upload and transmit documents, images, videos and movies over the web, the average size of the files available for upload and download is mushrooming as well.

These increases in data volume mean that the “High-Speed” Internet solution of today is destined to become the slothful slowpoke of tomorrow.


Cisco Data Growth Graph
Data flow is measured here in Exabytes of data per Month.
(1 Extabyte = 1 Billion Gigabytes [Gigs])
2013 = 612 Billion Gigs (Annualized);
2018 = 1584 Billion Gigs (Annualized).


What besides speed is important in a Broadband Internet service? 


Another critical factor is data volume.  Many cellphone-based systems, and most satellite systems, have data caps, or metered services.  This means that they keep track of how much data each subscriber to a particular Internet service is using, and if the data volume is over a certain limit for a given billing period, then a premium is added to the bill.

These overage charges can add up very quickly, and in many cases come out at three or four times the original bill. This issue is particularly important when Broadband Internet access is added to the mix, as your new system will now be fast enough to handle all of the types of data that it encounters.

In order to take full advantage of Broadband Internet access, secure it from a vendor that offers a "no-cap" (or "unlimited") data plan. 


Is it true that if we sign up with WiredWest and send in our $49 deposit now, we are automatically committing the Town for about a million dollars later, and are somehow bypassing the required two-thirds vote on bond authorization?


That is absolutely NOT TRUE.  The two-thirds vote at a duly-convened Town Meeting is required by law.  It stands as an important barricade against imprudent capital expenditures and appropriations no matter who proposes them.  We should all be glad that it’s there, for reasons that go way beyond Broadband.


OK, then what is the $49 deposit for? 


It’s like the “earnest money” you put down when making an offer to purchase a house.  Its purpose is to signal to the buyer that your offer is a serious one, yet the deposit is refundable if the sale does not go through.

In the case of WiredWest, the deposit is placed in an interest-bearing escrow account.  If you withdraw from the project for any reason prior to using the service, WiredWest will refund your money to you, with interest.


So if WiredWest can’t use the money from the deposits for anything having to do with startup or operations until the service is activated, why do they need it now?


They need it because they are potential recipients of large amounts of grant monies from the State through MBI.  In this situation, WiredWest needs something more substantial than survey data to gauge and testify to the seriousness of its potential customers.


Is it true that not having Broadband Internet can affect the sale (and value) of real property?  


While it is not a widespread phenomenon as of yet, there is some evidence that house sales are being negatively affected when Broadband is not a part of the equation.  One successful area realtor said that most of the action in the market for houses in the Hilltowns is in the $150,000 to $300,000 price range.  Those houses that fit within these price brackets sell more quickly and for a higher price if Broadband is part of the package.  He added that for houses in the $300,000+ range, 'time on market' is a factor: without Broadband, these houses take a lot longer to sell, often requiring downward adjustments in asking price.


Can Hawley afford Broadband?


We have a long way to go before we'll be able to afford it.  The initial investment (in the form of bonded debt guarantees) of $1 MM plus proposed for Hawley by WiredWest/MBI will have to be lowered significantly before the Selectboard, the Communications Committee and the Finance Committee would even consider recommending it to a Town Meeting.  Or, we'll have to find other sources of significant funding . . . or both.


Then why even bother . . .? 


Because this is too good an opportunity to pass up without a fight.  Having true Broadband available to all of our residents at a reasonable price would allow us as a community to leapfrog forward in terms of lifestyle choices, cultural access, educational advantages and economic growth -- without damaging our traditions or our natural environment.

Besides, should we stand by and do nothing while the Commonwealth of Massachusetts appropriates and spends over $130 Million to upgrade telecommunications in Western Massachusetts and the residents and taxpayers of the Town of Hawley are cut out of the process because of the Town's unique geography?  We don't think so -- not without a fight.


Well, then, what do we do? 


We must do four things:

1.)  Continue to go through the WiredWest process.  There are things to be learned that have not yet been revealed, and opportunities to be found that may yet allow us to bring our participation in that project into the realm of affordability.  At the same time, we must continue to let WiredWest know at each step along the way just how unworkable it will be for Hawley to implement the program as currently presented.

2.)  Seek legislative redress.  The Communications Committee has penned two letters that have been adopted by the Selectboard and sent out to State Officials and Selectboards of other towns that point out the essential unfairness of the current cost distribution system, overloading lower-population towns, as it does, with proportionally higher debt.  Hawley has recruited a group of 10 Towns which will be seeking supplementary funding to "level the playing field" regarding Broadband Internet with the help of State Representatives and Senators.

3.)  Explore other Broadband options in addition to fiber-optic cable/WiredWest.  Mobile and fixed wireless are both possibilities, as is a hybrid of cable and wireless.  Perhaps there's a volume discount out there for a super-fast satellite-based system.  We have been notified that MBI will be offering some direct funding that may be helpful if we decide to take one of these routes.

4.)  Find outside sources of funding.  Some government agencies and private foundations are jumping onto the "help fund Broadband" bandwagon. We need to connect with a few of them and see what's possible.

Send us Your Questions

Do you have an unanswered question about Broadband?  Send it to us via email by clicking HERE, and we'll add your question -- and our answer -- to this list.