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“Regional Broadband”

July 17th, 2016

The quick history as I understand it: State legislators passed a bond bill to get broadband service to rural communities. MBI — the Mass Broadband Institute– was given general oversight.  Originally a team of citizen volunteers formed a committee to lobby for this money and research and inform its implementation for 44 towns, and this was called ‘Wired West’. That committee decided that only fiber-optic to every house was the way to go.  Wired West directed towns to form a ‘Municipal Light Plant’ to be the broadband utility, which would then get signed up as a member of the WW cooperative.

However, as plans progressed, Fiber To The House was ~3x more expensive than the state bond covered, and small towns did not have that bonding ability, or tax base, or customer base to pay with.  And Wired West shifted from being a group of unpaid volunteer political organizers/ lobbyists into expecting to be paid as the owner/ manager of a broadband infrastructure paid for by the towns.  MBI found WW’s business and financial models shaky.  Towns found WW’s price tag, and liability burden unsupportable.

This meant individual small towns were left to figure out a town-only portion of what was meant to be a regional system of complex technical and service aspects.  Middlefield’s Communications Committee tried figuring this out.  But committee members disagreed on approach. Howard Knickerbocker resigned from being party to the Committee, despite his serious research and knowledge.  The Committee was then dominated by political operatives, as WW had been, and as of July 2017 was following the WW story in having the unpaid volunteer Chairman of the Communications Committee appointed as “Manager of the Municipal Light Plant” and slated to be paid $25,000 (or some portion of that “Administration” portion of an MBI pilot/ test grant) for the 6 months work of the grant period.

Listen to the Selectboard meeting of July 13, 2016 for the debate on this topic.

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