WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Without taking a formal vote, Williamstown selectmen on Monday endorsed an already-submitted request for a regional study of broadband fiber-optic options among Berkshire County cities and towns already served by the Spectrum-Charter Communications cable giant. Meanwhile, state officials were preparing to unveil and take testimony from towns in Windsor on Thursday about proposals to build fiber networks in hill and smaller towns that have no broadband at all.
- A national expert on municipal-broadband networks answers questions in a discussion with the Greylock Independent. Joanne Hovis says rural communities are panicking about outmigration of youth because of lack of broadband Internet — and government is tending to back private cable giants rather than town ownership as the solution. (LINK TO DISCUSSION)
- The president of one of the companies bidding to provide broadband services to small towns things a hybrid public-private approach where towns own the fiber cables but hire private enterprise to run the system is feasible. Matt Crocker also says that in the short-term, the public faces the “horrible” option of a cable monpoly without municipal system control. (LINK TO DISCUSSION)
The MassBroadband unveiling of six proposals to provide broadband service to underserved towns is the subject of a public hearing — starting at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 16 at the Worthington Town Hall and running for as long as it takes to get through testimony from town officials and other testimony — up to as late as 6 p.m.
“Select board members and designees wishing to speak should please RSVP to MBI Deputy Director Edmund Donnelly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org,” former state lawmaker Peter Larkin, of Pittsfield, who now heads the Mass Broadband Institute (MBI) board, wrote in an invitation to towns not posted to the MBI website. “To accommodate as many speakers as possible we will limit each speaker to three minutes,” Larkin’s invitation added. He continued: “In the event that an interested speaker has a preferred time for speaking, we will do our best to accommodate that request. Any designee or Selectboard member that wishes to speak during a certain time should please indicate so in the e-mail RSVP. We will do our best to provide a one hour range of time during which you could expect to speak.”
In Williamstown, Town Manager Jason Hoch disclosed that he had submitted an application for state funds to the Berkshire County Regional Planning Commission to align with North Adams, Pittsfield, Great Barrington and Williamstown to study options for communities which already have Internet service from the cable TV incumbent but want to consider competitive municipal options for higher-speed fiber-optic networks. Hoch’s disclosure came as a volunteer committee headed by Selectmen Chairman Andrew Hogelund reported on a year-long fact-gathering process on how to beef up Internet options.
At the end of the discussion, selectmen encouraged Hogeland to begin to develop a Town Meeting warrant article that would ask voters to support spending town money for a more rigorous survey of the costs and service potential for a town-owned or public-private fiber network in competition with Charter. The expert advice would research the feasibility of a fiber-cable buildout in town, ow many people might subscribe at what price points, and whether some service could be provided by over-the-air public wifi rather than fiber-to-the-home. “We’re evaluating a potential investment in our community,” observed Selectman Hugh Daley.
Williamstown-based attorney Donald Dubendorf, who has played a key role in state broadband efforts for more than a decade, said a key thing to understand is that in more rural areas such as Western Massachusetts communities, private cable and telecom companies are list interested in investing in new technology. “If the private sector wanted to provide what we want, it would be done already,” he said, adding later, “Whatever we want will not come to us from the private sector, I’m confident of that.”
Selectman Jeffrey Thomas observed that any proposal “is going to be heavily dependent on town financing.” He asked rhetorically if the town should spend money on services which only some townspeople want to use. “If the solution is we all pay, but don’t all benefit, is that OK?” asked Thomas.
Dubendorf’s reply: No everyone has a fire hydrant or municipal water or sewer, or sends children to school, but all those services are paid for by all taxpayers. “I hear that,” said Dubendorf. “Rural towns everywhere have wrested with that question . . . we pay for lots of things toether that we don’t [all] use.
When Thomas declared: “We could be talking about a $10-million bond issue,” other selectmen admonished him for picking a number without any data yet. Thomas then called the number “hypothetical.”
Selectman Jane Patton said the real selling point for faster internet would be the resulting “economic uptick.” She said: “I’m all in, let’s do it.”