We’ve all experienced a lousy internet connection, whether it’s the beleaguered wifi at the coffee shop or your kids are streaming videos on too many devices at home. Whatever the reason may be, a lagging internet connection is a drag. And in western Massachusetts, this is a big problem.

Nestled in the Pioneer Valley along Interstate 91 and Route 2, the town of Greenfield boasts of lush, rolling hills and rivers, a rich mill history, and a bustling local economy. But a strong internet connection? Not so much. Mayor Bill Martin had a problem with that.

“We had such an unequal playing field," Martin said. "Some people were using dial-up. Some didn’t have it at all.”

But he couldn’t get any help from the state to improve it. The problem was the numbers. Although 40 percent of Greenfield residents aren’t online—often because of the quality of the service—that isn’t enough to meet the state’s threshold for what they call an “underserved community.” With no state aid on the horizon, the mayor took matters into his own hands.

“The internet is an infrastructure issue," Martin said. "It falls in parallel to water, sewer, power, natural gas lines that we have throughout the city. We should control it.”

Under Massachusetts law, cities and towns can own their public utilities—like gas and electric companies. That includes internet, too. So Martin hired a company to figure out how the city could become its own independent internet service provider—without using taxpayers’ dollars.

They named it Greenlight. It took a $5 million bond and votes from the city council and voters for Greenlight to get the green light. A pilot program succeeded and, come July 1, the whole city will start to be wired—a first of its kind venture in the state with the potential for significant savings.

The market cost from Greenfield’s largest provider—Comcast, starts at $40, going upwards of $80 a month. That’s a stark contrast to Greenlight’s plans, which will range from $10 to $30 a month for residents. Commercial plans will start at $40.

Martin is optimistic that the low cost will encourage all residents to sign up. And as more people do that, the costs will decrease, providing the possibility of free internet service for low-income residents.

“This is an opportunity for everyone local to have and be a part of their own municipal internet company," Martin said. "I think everyone will join.”  

Residents will now have a choice of providers.

"Greenfield's plan to enter the broadband market demonstrates that the drive for dynamic, innovative competition exists," said Kristen L. Roberts, a spokeswoman for Comcast said in a statement.

Roberts added that Comcast is in discussions to partner with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to bring internet services to additional consumers in Western Massachusetts, where 44 communities are still without any residential internet access.

It’s a good thing Comcast welcomes the competition—because it sounds like they’ve met their match in the Town of Greenfield.