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Westminster to extend fiber internet beyond city limits

Some residents outside of Westminster will soon have access to the city’s fiber internet network.

The Common Council of Westminster adopted a resolution Oct. 12 to extend Westminster Fiber Network beyond the town’s boundaries and to not charge the city’s taxpayers for the new customers. The users themselves will be responsible for payment.

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Some city residents and businesses share the same street as those without a Westminster address.

“We literally have fiber hanging down their streets,” Mayor Joe Dominick said during the virtual meeting, adding that those outside of Westminster did not have access.

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Now they will, if they are in proximity. Carroll residents and businesses farther out will not have access to the fiber network.

Dominick referred to the start of the expansion as a “pilot” and identified 99 new addresses in the area to test it if they choose. It includes a neighborhood of 24 or 25 homes, he said, and parts of John Street and Fitzway Drive.

Westminster councilman Tony Chiavacci said he was on the council when they decided to start the fiber project.

“We believed that it was risky, but a risk worth taking,” he said, adding people have called him requesting access to the fiber network and one man told him the extension was the best decision the city has made since he lived there. “However, from a financial perspective, the jury’s still out a little bit.”

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Chiavacci said later in an interview the goal for the network was not to make money, but to provide, what he called, the best internet in the state of Maryland and break even on the municipal bond. Extending the service to those close by could help them do that, he said. He added that extending the service still farther across the county is likely not worth the gamble.

Dominick said the primary goal was not to extend the fiber network but to make it financially successful and as affordable as possible. He said he sees the brief extension as a way to save money and increase revenue.

“Our number one and only real responsibility is the city taxpayer,” the mayor said.

The city owns and created the fiber network. Ting, an internet service provider, provides internet over the fiber.

Chris Treece, lead broadband technician with Ting Internet, secures a length of six strand fiber optic cable. The city of Westminster paid to build a fiber network. Ting is hooking up homes and businesses.
Chris Treece, lead broadband technician with Ting Internet, secures a length of six strand fiber optic cable. The city of Westminster paid to build a fiber network. Ting is hooking up homes and businesses. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Robert Wack, a former council president, said research for the fiber network began in 2013, planning continued in 2014 and the official launch was in 2015.

He said the network is one of the first of its kind in the mid-Atlantic and it was modeled after a network in Stockholm, Sweden.

“Google used a similar model in Huntsville, Alabama, but we beat them by about a month,” he said.

Some 6,000 users have access to the network, according to the mayor, who has a decade of experience in telecommunications.

Council President Gregory Pecoraro said they talked about extending the fiber network back when they first created it.

“Ever since we announced the start of the fiber project, we always had a lot of people outside the town say, ‘gee, wish I could take advantage of that,’” Pecoraro said.

The pandemic inspired them to move forward with the extension.

“Our goal is to get some people hooked up before the end of the year,” he said, adding they will later figure out an appropriate cost.

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