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Chicopee Electric Light Partners with HG&E to Offer Fiber Optic Internet Service
Jeffrey Cady

Jeffrey Cady, general manager of Chicopee Electric Light, said fiber-optic Internet access in Chicopee is expected to create a new revenue stream.

Through a unique collaboration, Chicopee Electric Light (CEL) and Holyoke Gas and Electric (HG&E) are now offering fiber optic Internet connections and network services to commercial and industrial customers in Chicopee.

Jeffrey Cady, general manager at CEL, explained that a 30-mile fiber-optic backbone was installed in 2001 in Chicopee, with the goal of linking the city’s municipal buildings, including the police and fire departments at the Public Safety Complex and the Health Department, for increased productivity and reliability.

“The purpose was to link our facilities together to improve efficiency, which we felt was important for the community overall,” said Cady. “At that time, we bought and installed additional fiber, with the idea that we could lease that extra cable to generate potential revenue.”

Fiber optic systems, where available, are often deemed superior to cable modem, T1, or DSL technology in that they provide a direct line connection from host servers to a customer’s site, with no sharing of data and no competition for bandwidth. The connection’s speed is often faster through fiber optic lines, and more cost effective than other fast, reliable connections such as T-3 lines.

Cady said the last of the city’s buildings and departments were linked through the new system last year (the last to go online was the town’s landfill), and CEL was able to turn its attention to the additional cabling and what could be done with it.

“We started talking about what to do with the surplus cabling and about putting a structure together at the end of last summer,” he said, “and our first customer went online in January.”

HG&E has served as an Internet service provider since 1997 through its telecommunications arm, HGE.net. It has constructed one of the most advanced self-healing fiber optic rings in the Commonwealth, extending from Holyoke into Chicopee and to downtown Springfield, at the Tower Square and Monarch Place office towers.

The network has a redundant design which guards against interruptions, and it has also passed several quality and confidentiality audits, meeting or exceeding the standards set forth by the FDIC and HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Jim Lavelle, general manager of HG&E, said HGE.net’s fiber optic services are currently being used through a similar agreement in Westfield, and he’d like to see such services extend further into other area towns and cities in the coming years.

He added that the new partnership in Chicopee stems from existing alliances between the Holyoke utility company and Chicopee Electric Light, which creates a natural avenue for gradually adding new and developing services.

“It first came about primarily because of our longstanding utility relationship with Chicopee Electric,” he said, echoing Cady’s sentiment that the partnership made sense for both parties. “This was a logical extension of existing collaborative efforts, and an opportunity to take advantage of excess fiber.

“The drivers for such collaborations have always been to improve service and reduce price for customers,” added Lavelle, “and this new partnership falls right in line with those efforts.”

The initiative will not expend city dollars, but it is expected to generate between $150,000 and $300,000 in revenues for Chicopee.

Cady said that, essentially, Chicopee will be leveraging Holyoke’s existing expertise to benefit its own business customers through the agreement.

“It makes more sense,” he said. “Holyoke has very high reliability, and that will support the economic development aspect of fiber optic Internet networking services in Chicopee.”

Through the partnership, fiber optic customers with multiple locations in Chicopee will also be able to link to each other within the network area of Holyoke, Chicopee, and downtown Springfield, and outside of that network footprint, customers will have the option of linking to branch offices through other types of Internet connections (T1 or T1 copper lines) anywhere in the 413 area code.

In addition, a company may place servers at HGE.net’s central office location, to take advantage of its climate-controlled facility and back-up power generators, and can opt for dial-up services for remote employees as part of the total package.

Customers who choose to purchase a fiber optic Internet connection will be connected to the existing ring in Chicopee via a portion of cabling that has been leased to HG&E, which in turn will provide sales, marketing, customer service, and billing support directly to the customer through HGE.net.

Pricing starts at just under $200 a month, and services can include hosted E-mail service and disk storage space for hosting a company Web site.

Cady said CEL and HGE.net are now ramping up their marketing efforts to promote the service in Chicopee.

“We’re really trying to get as many customers as possible,” said Cady. “Another benefit of fiber optic is we can always expand the network, so there’s no cap on how many customers we can serve.”

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