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Five College Fiber

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Ken Lefebvre -

 If the United States was the birthplace of modern computers and the information age, why is it currently ranked 13th in the world in average internet speed? American’s now pay as much as 6 times the price for the same internet services that could be found much cheaper in a number of other nations. Our country is paying more but getting less.


Five College Fiber is a collaborative student project bringing the next generation of internet connectivity to Western Massachusetts. With four colleges, one university, and a diverse population of resident scholars, the Pioneer Valley represents an ideal location for this infrastructure: there is plenty of need for international research and collaboration. Working with Susan Crawford, Free Press and a number of other organizations, we hope to raise consumer awareness and show just how much demand influences policy-makers and providers. Although these updates would lead to long term growth, the priorities of many telecom companies have remained in maintaining quarterly profits and as such there’s been little incentive to invest in uncommon, albeit proven, technologies. This resistance has resulted in a number of pieces of legislation that have passed in more than a dozen states which effectively prevent municipalities and counties from taking matters into their own hands.

Susan’s keynote at the Hyde Park Summit was a wake up call for the many of us who have simply grown used to this norm. While current speeds are fast enough to meet the needs of many users, we have an opportunity to raise their expectations. Genetics research, remote lectures, immersive simulations, telemedicine; many of the opportunities for gigabit bandwidth have not even yet been considered. The best way to realize these and other untold ideas doesn’t lie in planning for hypothetical “what if’s” but in providing innovators with the means to use this technology first hand. Twelve other countries have faster connection speeds than our own and according to one study by the New America Foundation, internet users in New York pay the same prices for internet access only 1/4th the download speed of similar service offered in Paris, as well as upload rates only 4% of their upload speeds. For two dollars more, consumers in Hong Kong get 250 times the upload speeds of their Manhattan Island counterparts, speeds which are already considered superior than those available in many other areas in the nation. Just a decade ago, the internet was still a novelty, and before that cell phones were seen as luxuries for stock traders and computers were just leaving people’s garages. Innovation is unforeseen, but if we want to once again be competitive on the world stage, this work cannot wait.

Before any of this can move forward we need to survey demand. If anyone would like to get involved with this project or would like to a launch a similar one in their own region, contact Caitlyn Howarth ( or Ken Lefebvre ( with any questions.

Cover photo courtesy of ShutterStock 

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