REQUEST FOR INFORMATION

  1. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

This Request for Information (RFI) is being issued by the Town of Williamstown, Massachusetts in support of its strategic evaluation of the options for making broadband available to its residents and businesses. The town of Williamstown is located in the northwest corner of Massachusetts, bordering on the states of New York and Vermont. The residents of the town currently receive internet services primarily through Time-Warner Cable. Through the Massachusetts Broadband Initiative, (MBI) fiber optic cable is present within the town at a small number of Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs) and is used by institutions such as Williams College and The Clark Art Institute, but is not generally available to residents and businesses.

The town is undertaking a formal process to evaluate the ‘last mile’ options to make fiber optic cable available to its residents and businesses. This evaluation process is in furtherance of an initiative for 2015-2016 by the Board of Selectmen to “undertake a conceptual analysis on costs, benefits and options for deciding whether town should pursue generally available broadband access.” Similarly, in 2015, the Selectmen formed an Economic Development Committee (EDC) to make recommendations to enhance the opportunities for economic development. One of the EDC recommendations in its December 2015 report is that the town “should continue to investigate the potential of broadband access to be a community asset for both residents and businesses, and to understand the project scope, costs, benefits and organizational options for such a project so that an informed decision can be made whether to pursue broadband access.”  This RFI is being issued in furtherance of these recommendations.

The information received in response to this RFI will be used by the town in making its strategic decisions on broadband access. The budget cost estimates may be used in seeking approval for funding the selected option. Once an option is selected, the information from this RFI may be used to prepare one or more Requests For Proposal (RFPs) for bids on the implementation of the chosen option. This RFI process will also help identify potential contractors, partners and interested parties that may participate in the implementation of a chosen project. Responding to this RFI is not a prerequisite for participation in any future solicitation process.

Williamstown’s population consists of approximately 7599 persons, per the 2013 US Census update, of which about 2,000 are students at Williams College. Town records indicate that there are approximately 2500 dwelling premises. Households and businesses are predominantly located in the town’s ‘core’ area. See attached map. Cable access currently is provided almost entirely by telephone poles and the town has minimal underground electrical utilities. The town has about 53 miles of town roads and 16 miles of state roads, and a small number of unaccepted roads. Detailed GIS maps of Williamstown are available at http://www.axisgis.com/williamstownma/.

  1. SCHEDULE AND CONTACT INFORMATION

Set out below is the schedule for actions under this RFI:

        Release of RFI                                        April 27, 2016

        Written questions due to Williamstown                May 20, 2016, 4:00pm

        Williamstown’s responses to questions                June 3, 2016

        RFI Responses due to Williamstown                June 17, 2016, 4:00pm

Written questions and responses to the RFI should be electronically submitted to:

Jason Hoch

Town Manager

Town of Williamstown

Email: jhoch@williamstownma.gov

  1. INFORMATION REQUESTED

  1. Respondent’s Background and Services
  1. Respondents should identify into which of the following four categories they fit, and the town recognizes that a single firm can fit into more than one category.

Construction: Firms which provide fiber cable installation and required construction services including, but not limited to, digging trenches and duct banks, making ready telephone poles and hanging cable on the poles, building conduit, pulling cable, erecting facilities, installing initial electronics, and other functions to connecting the network together or to users.

Maintenance: Firms who repair broken fiber cables, provide replacement fiber, fix broken aerial structures, replace compromised facility structures, and generally keep the network's physical elements in working order

Network Operator: Firms responsible for the operation of the network including managing the performance of the switches, servers, software, and data traffic within the network. The Network Operator will have the relationship with the network hubs and interconnections, and dispatch maintenance and other technical resources to maintain, and repair the network as needed.

Service Provider: Firms who manage the customer relationship. These firms handle billing, process payments, provide customer relations, provide technical support, undertake home installations, and serve as a customer service contact.

  1. Please discuss the respondent’s corporate history and structure.
  2. Please describe the respondent’s experience in delivering the relevant services.
  3. What is respondent’s history of similar projects in Massachusetts?
  4. What are the fields of the major subcontractors the respondent would propose to use for its work?

  1. Ownership and Operating Responsibility

The town recognizes that broadband access can be accomplished through a variety of business and ownership models, with the primary distinction being whether the town or a private provider owns and operates the system. The town requests respondents to the RFI to evaluate the positive and negative features of each model, and to explain the model preferred by the respondent.

  1. Please provide your opinion on the relative merits of a town-owned system versus a privately owned system.
  2. Please provide your opinion on the relative merits of a town-operated system versus a privately operated system.

  1. System Design, Construction and Operation
  1. What are the various advantages and disadvantages to phased build out of infrastructure vs. a single build out such as, for example, serving the core of the town first and the outlying parts of town later?
  2. Please identify the main components of infrastructure needed categorized by services  from, for example, minimum infrastructure, basic internet, telephone, cable television, home security, emergency services, and smart grid.
  3. Please give your opinion on using the existing telephone poles versus placing the lines underground
  4. What contracts and permits would a construction or operating company need to use telephone poles, public infrastructure or rights of way?

  1. Costs and Funding

The town contemplates that a logical next step would be to seek funding for the chosen option and seeks information to support a budget request. The information requested in this RFI should not be considered a bid, but should be designed to assist the town in assessing alternative approaches and in formulating budget requests to Town Meeting and other agencies. A formal bid and procurement process would follow.

  1. Please provide a range of budget estimates for the construction of a fiber optic network, identifying the major components of the infrastructure and your assumptions as to what project elements are included or excluded.
  2. Please give your opinion on the options for defining where the system costs end versus where the individual homeowner or business costs should start (e.g., at the curb, to the house, in the house).
  3. Please provide your opinion on the type and range of annual operating and maintenance costs for the system.
  4. Please provide a budget estimate of what costs (e.g., installation costs, equipment costs and monthly fees) would be incurred by individual homeowners or businesses.
  5. What options exist for project funding and what is your evaluation of those options?

  1. Feasibility
  1. Please provide your opinion on the minimum number of subscribers necessary to attract an operator and sustain the system.
  2. How long of a contract does an operator need to have the incentive to bid on an RFP for operations?
  3. Is there a minimum density (houses per mile) that is necessary to make the investment worthwhile?

  1. Preparation for Next Steps
  1. What steps should the town take, including the gathering of information, to make for a better defined and efficient RFP process for broadband implementation?
  2. What permitting or procurement steps should the town take to facilitate construction and operation of the system?
  3. What would be an advisable scope of work if the town were to retain a consultant to design a system?