Sometimes city councils don’t quite have their fingers on the pulse of their constituents. It can be difficult to know what everyone wants, so there are instances when taking a direct approach it the best way to share our thoughts. In Chicopee, Massachusetts, City Councilor Joel McAuliffe is giving constituents from across the city a chance to express their support for municipal broadband with an online petition…and people are responding.
More Wait and See
McAuliffe took the unorthodox approach after his colleagues on the governing body voted not to support his resolution to move forward on municipal broadband for Chicopee. Instead, they decided to refer the resolution to the Utilities Committee for further review. He decided to create the petition, he said, because other councilors stated that they have not heard from their constituents about the issue.
Members of the council didn’t react favorably to the resolution, several wondering what consequences would await them and the city if they committed themselves if they passed it. Others stated that they weren’t against municipal broadband, but wanted more information before moving ahead, especially related to cost, funding, and whether or not the city could afford the investment.
In 2015, the city hired consultants to complete a feasibility study. The results concluded that the city would benefit from a publicly owned fiber optic network for several reasons. In addition to the fact that many in the community now obtain Internet access via Verizon DSL or Charter Spectrum, the survey shows that households in Chicopee tend to use more than the national average number of Internet- connected devices. As the community moves forward, consultants warned, stress on the already overtaxed copper infrastructure will only increase.
Chicopee owns an operates a municipal electric utility, which gives the town an advantage should they decide to also invest in Internet access infrastructure. Consultants estimate the cost of citywide deployment will reach between $30 and $35 million, but McAuliffe believes the community can reduce that figure by engaging the electric utility for a significant portion of the work. As is often the case where a municipal electric utility serves residents and businesses, there are already existing fiber resources within Chicopee.
It's An Issue...Really
McAuliffe posted the petition October 5th and almost 500 people have signed as of this writing, many taking the time to express their thoughts. Some people describe frustrations with poor service from incumbents Charter Spectrum and Verizon, others want choice or better prices, and many would like to have Internet access as a utility.
Nearby Holyoke Gas & Electric has been offering Internet access to dozens of businesses in Chicopee for about 10 years, but doesn’t extend that service to residents. Learn more about their publicly owned network from the 2015 Berkman Center report.
McAuliffe told his colleagues on the council that during his campaign, the topic of municipal broadband has been one of the issues voters has brought up most often. He’s made a short video to promote the petition: