The town of Mount Washington, Massachusetts, has successfully streamlined its ability to invest in a municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.
On January 22nd, Governor Charlie Baker signed a home-rule bill specifically granting the tiny town of 124 residents a special authority:
"Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the town of Mount Washington may own, operate, maintain, manage or hire others to do so on its behalf, and to take any reasonable action necessary to establish and operate broadband high speed internet infrastructure and services without the establishment of a municipal light plant."
Another Underserved Rural Town
Mount Washington is located in the southwest corner of the state; much of the community is covered by the Mount Washington State Forest and Mount Everett State Reservation. Large incumbents do not feel investment in fast, affordable, reliable network infrastructure would pay off. Due to a small population, the Taconic Mountains, and thickly wooded geography, any return on investment will take longer in Mount Washington than in urban areas.
Brian Tobin from the town's Select Board told WAMC:
“The town of Mount Washington is about as underserved as you can get in terms of broadband,” Tobin said. “Some people have long-distance wifi and others have satellite internet, but neither of those are satisfactory and it’s certainly not a 21st century solution to having reliable broadband.”
The community recognized that if they want 21st century connectivity they would have to build a municipal network.
Not Sold On Wired West
Many other communities in western Massachusetts have committed to joining the Wired West Cooperative, which requires member towns to establish a Municipal Light Plant (MLP). The MLP is a state-required municipal entity responsible for the administration of a municipal network. Wired West officials describe it as a "cooperative of MLPs."
This new law, which applies only to Mount Washington, allows the community to move forward with their project without establishing an MLP. Tobin told WAMC that the community did not feel comfortable committing to Wired West. They wanted to be solely responsible for their own telecommunications future and:
“We also believed, or at least I did, that we could easily be at the end of the line, because we are physically, in terms of getting it built out,” Tobin said. “We thought we could probably move faster on our own and so far I think about right about that.”
Mount Washington appears to have made a prudent choice. The current feud between Wired West and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) over the release of $40 million of state funds has halted deployment of the regional network.
Confident Rural Town
The town has already released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for an FTTH network; responses are due March 14th. They have set aside $250,000 for the project and are exploring additional funding options such as borrowing and a possible grant from MBI.
Tobin told the Berkshire Eagle that a town-wide poll in 2015 resulted in overwhelming support for the project:
"There are a handful of residents who have satellite Internet," said Tobin. "But we believe that even they will support this, if only in terms of improved property values."
The final town approval for the plan will happen at an upcoming regular or special town meeting. That will require a two-thirds majority," and while I don't want to speak for the voters, I'm confident we'll get that."