Local Government and Politics, News

Peabody to look at municipal high speed internet

Peabody Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. speaks to the crowd about the completion of the Peabody Square construction project during the official ribbon cutting. (Spenser R. Hasak)

PEABODY — The city’s electric rates are among the lowest in the state, thanks to the Peabody Municipal Light Plant (PMLP).

But will Peabody internet customers be able to see the same savings someday thanks to the public utility company?

A homegrown high speed fiber network won’t be battling Comcast for customers any time soon, but it could be the end result of a recent announcement by Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr.

The city is partnering with the PMLP to build a high-speed fiber loop in Peabody. Initially, the fiber loop will connect various PMLP installations in the city and feature an open system design enabling new high-speed data networks to connect all the city’s public schools, libraries, public safety and public works facilities, and other municipal users.

This is where it gets interesting for residents and businesses. Bettencourt wants the PMLP planning team to design the fiber loop with extra capacity so it could potentially deliver Gigabit speed internet service to Peabody residents and businesses.

“High speed fiber networks are critical components of 21st century municipal infrastructure,” said the mayor. “Third party network providers like Comcast and Verizon have not stepped up to better serve our city users, so Peabody is taking an important first step to create our own high-speed fiber network.”

The proposed fiber loop would let the city manage its own internal data networks and internet connectivity at significantly higher speeds and reliability compared to current choices, the mayor said.

Although there are no concrete numbers at this early stage of the game, Bettencourt said the project would bring cost savings on connectivity to the PMLP and city departments.

“We’re very early in the process, but we have a pretty good idea what our needs are and the city is looking at its needs,” said Glenn Trueira, the PMLP manager.

Once the PMLP and city departments determine their needs for a high speed fiber loop or loops, the project will then be put out for design before being put out to bid for the fiber and installation.

The high-speed fiber installation would open up more opportunities for the city, even the long-discussed cable television competition in Peabody.

“We’re all trying to work on this together,” Trueira said. “There are needs and concerns from customers. This will take some time, but there will be good long-term benefits.”

The PMLP has discussed the possibility of providing cable television service, but Trueira said the business model hasn’t made sense for the utility. However, if a new fiber network were installed throughout the city, it could create opportunities for a third party provider, he said.

“It’s a lot of work and it will take a while, but once we get the infrastructure in, it is the medium to provide internet and cable at the same time,” Trueira said.

Given the PMLP’s generally favorable reputation, city council President Ed Charest said the proposal makes sense.

“This is a great opportunity,” he said. “You talk to people, and Comcast is not very well liked in the city. This is another opportunity for providing internet, and I think it’s great.”

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