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Local Government

Broadband Evaluation Underway

The Ashfield News of Ashfield, Massachusetts

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The select board began meetings with the finance and technology committees in October to evaluate implementation options for broadband. The group agreed that the strong majority vote for the full borrowing authorization and debt exclusion of $2.3 million, which is estimated to be the maximum cost of a fiber-to-the-home system, was a clear indication that the town is committed to a fiber optic system — a system that would likely have the greatest bandwidth capacity, highest speeds, and longest life.

The select board met with Erik Nakajima, director of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, on October 14. Nakajima discussed the state agency's process of working with and advising the towns, emphasizing that different towns may choose different implementation options depending on their financial condition, appetite for tax increase, and demand for broadband.

The select board decided on October 19 to focus subsequent broadband research on the so-called "regional network" option. By doing so, the board affirmed the goal of fiber-to-the-home and eliminated the so-called "single town enterprise" option from further consideration. The enterprise option would have most likely required a commitment for as long as twenty years with a private company that would provide exclusive service to residents and partially own the network facility in town. Selectman Todd Olanyk expressed concern that such a commitment would be an unacceptable risk. Although an enterprise option would likely result in lower capital cost, selectman Ron Coler noted that such an arrangement would eliminate the possibility that excess revenues could be returned to the town to offset the debt.

By contrast, the regional network option is promoted by the MBI as the preferred solution and the town can expect support from the state in design and construction and additional funding of approximately $600,000.

The select board and finance and technology committees will now focus on two different regional network options: a single town implementation in which Ashfield obtains network operations and internet service from third parties via renewable contracts; and the MLP cooperative implementation, in which Ashfield joins with other towns to share the operation of the network. The groups plan to meet with a representative from the MLP cooperative Wired West in early November and then meet with potential network operators and Internet service providers later in the month.

The Board hopes to convene a town meeting in early 2016 to present an implementation proposal to residents for approval.

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Original Publication Date: November 1, 2015

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