Info on Broadband Article For Wendell Town Meeting 12/15/10

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Robbie Leppzer, Chair, Wendell Broadband Committee

At our upcoming special Town Meeting on Wednesday, December 15 at 7pm, Wendell citizens will have an opportunity to vote to take concrete steps to develop a municipally-owned, fiber-optic high-speed broadband internet network for Wendell and other unserved towns in Western Massachusetts.

As Chair of the Wendell Broadband Committee, I co-led the original organizing efforts, with other broadband committee representatives from 47 unserved and underserved towns across Western Mass., to create the Wired West Cooperative.

Last June at our annual Town Meeting, Wendell citizens voted overwhelmingly to "enter into immediate discussions" with other Western Mass towns to create WiredWest.

After much research, the town delegates to WiredWest (including Wendell) voted in September to form a municipal cooperative of member towns. A municipal cooperative is authorized under Massachusetts General Law (MGL), Chapter 164 which was originally written over a hundred years ago to allow towns or a cooperative of towns to build or acquire a power generating plant. The legislation has been amended since to include other technologies such as distributing over-the-air TV and "telecommunications services".

In order to legally form and join this regional municipal cooperative, Wendell must take several steps. First, Wendell needs to vote to form a "Municipal Lighting Plant" (MLP) department. If passed with a two-thirds majority vote of voters present, at two town meetings, two to 13 months apart, then, Wendell, and all other towns that have voted to create MLPs, will be allowed to join the WiredWest Cooperative.

The construction and operation of the WiredWest network will be funded by grants, bonds, and subscriber fees, and will not be dependent on tax revenue from the member towns.

Below, I've included the text of the warrant article and additional background information about the WiredWest initiative.

I strongly encourage all Wendell voters to come and participate next Wednesday at our special town meeting. Please arrive before the meeting starts at 7pm, as the broadband article is the first article on the town meeting warrant.

If you have any additional questions, don't hesitate to call or email me.

Robbie Leppzer

Chair, Wendell Broadband Committee
(978) 544-7926


BROADBAND TOWN MEETING ARTICLE INFORMATION

To Be Voted On At The Upcoming Special Wendell Town Meeting, Wednesday, December 15 at 7pm. (It's the first article on the warrant, so please come on time!)

WARRANT ARTICLE #1:

“To see if the Town will vote to authorize the Board of Selectmen to take all necessary and appropriate action to establish and to maintain, in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 164 of the General Laws and in accordance with the rules, regulations and orders of the Department of Public Utilities and the Department of Telecommunications & Cable, a municipal lighting plant for all purposes allowable under the laws of the Commonwealth, including without limitation the operation of a telecommunications system and any related services, or to take any other action relative thereto.”

WHAT ARE WE VOTING FOR?

We're voting for our town to form a Municipal Lighting Plant (MLP) department, under Massachusetts General Laws 164. If passed with a two-thirds majority vote of voters present, at two town meetings, two to 13 months apart, this allows our town to join the WiredWest Cooperative, which will undertake the capitalization, build out and operation of a municipally-owned fiber-optic network in participating Municipal Light Plant towns.

BACKGROUND ABOUT WIRED-WEST

WiredWest is a community-driven initiative to build a municipally-owned, last-mile, fiber-optic network in Western Massachusetts towns unserved and underserved by high-speed internet, and create a long-lived asset that drives regional economic growth and quality of life for years to come.

The WiredWest initiative is the result of broadband advocates throughout Western Massachusetts coming together to solve the problem of inadequate access and ensure the solution serves the needs of our communities.

WiredWest consists of 47 Charter towns in Western Massachusetts that are unserved or underserved by broadband. The towns formally joined organizational discussions following votes at 2010 annual town meetings or Selectboard action to create WiredWest.

WiredWest P.O. Box 312 Ashfield MA 01330-0312 phone 413.624.6557
www.wiredwest.net

WIREDWEST NETWORK PRINCIPLES

UNIVERSAL ACCESS: We believe every home and business deserves access to 21st century telecommunications and will work to make service available to all who want it.

COMMUNITY-OWNED: Participating towns have a role in oversight of the organization, to ensure the network is managed in the best interests of our communities and the region. The construction and operation of the WiredWest network will be funded by grants, bonds, and subscriber fees, and will not be dependent on tax revenue from the member towns.

FINANCIALLY SUSTAINABLE: The business model must be sustainable and realistic in its assumptions; built on the premise that revenues will cover operational costs, debt service and repayment of capital investment within a reasonable timeframe.

FOCUS ON SERVICE AND AFFORDABILITY: The focus will be enabling the provision of com prehensive, high quality services, with secure, reliable connections, and at affordable rates.

FUTURE-PROOF: Building a high capacity network for our region is essential but the upfront costs are high. Thus, the network must last a long time and be capable of highly scalable, economic upgrades as needs increase.

WHAT ARE THE TOWN'S ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES?

The Selectboard can choose to oversee its MLP department themselves or appoint a three to five member board. This group is responsible for appointing a manager, making decisions around the town's participation and representation in the WiredWest Cooperative (WWC), and filing annually with the State.

Creating the MLP incurs no cost to the town. If a town joins the WWC, there will be a membership fee of not more than $1,000 per town. Participation in the WWC is voluntary, but a town's decision to leave the WWC after the point of project financing will be determined by the type and terms of the financing.

WHY DO WE NEED THIS INITIATIVE?

Passing the MLP legislation is the first critical step to getting every business, student, institution and citizen connected to the 21st century digital world and ensuring we have access to the same advantages our urban and suburban counterparts enjoy.

Today, our region's lack of universal broadband disadvantages us with higher costs, lower productivity and fewer opportunities. Businesses and students cannot compete on a level playing field, and healthcare providers, schools, local governments, public safety agencies and the citizens they serve, cannot reap the cost savings and improved service delivery enabled by a robust, high-bandwidth fiber-optic network.

Without an effort now to bring our region's telecommunications infrastructure into the 21st century, this digital divide will continue to grow, and our region's appeal for businesses, young people, families and working professionals will diminish. The WiredWest plan to build and operate a municipal fiber network is critical to creating much needed economic stability and growth, sustaining our communities, and protecting the quality of life so many of us treasure in Western Massachusetts.

The Municipal Light Plant (MLP) recommendation is a result of extensive research guided by local municipal counsel, project counsel and a national community broadband consultant. The MLP option was advantageous to our efforts for a number of reasons, particularly the expediency of using existing legislation.

In addition to governance work, WiredWest and its consultants have compiled a business plan with projected financial statements; maintained relationships with key stakeholders including towns, legislators, local businesses, schools, citizens, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, and regional planning and economic development agencies, and other organizational activities. For more information, please visit www.wiredwest.net.

WHY A MUNICIPAL FIBER NETWORK?

A municipal model is being proposed because our region doesn't offer enough profitability for the private sector. Using a municipal model allows capital to be borrowed at lower rates and paid back over a longer period.

A fiber-optic network provides superior performance over any other technology and is able to accommodate escalating bandwidth needs of modern applications like video streaming and file sharing. Fiber delivers phone, internet, television - and innovative ancillary services like telemedicine and home security all over a single line.

HOW DOES WIREDWEST FIT WITH THE STATE'S MIDDLE MILE?

WiredWest is working closely with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) to ensure the creation of a robust, high performance network in WiredWest towns, from end to end.

The MBI is building a middle mile network that brings fiber to an end point in each town. WiredWest is proposing a last mile network that extends the fiber from the MBI's end point out to homes and businesses in our towns. This makes reliable, high-performance, fiber-optic service available to all who want it.

WHAT'S NEXT?

All towns that have established MLPs by June 30, 2011 will be invited as founding members of the WiredWest Communications Cooperative.

Representatives from these towns will make up the Board of Directors of the Coop, will approve the articles of incorporation and will begin forming bylaws. Once the Coop is formed, the process of procuring financing will also begin, which is the first step in building the network.