By DIANE BRONCACCIO
NEW SALEM —Town officials do not support the Charter Communications broadband proposal that would bring high-speed cable internet to most, but not all, residents at no additional cost to town taxpayers.
Instead, the Selectboard is asking the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to release the town’s share of design and construction grant money to build a fiber optic network through Westfield Gas & Electric.
In a recent town newsletter, the Broadband Committee said Charter’s offer was unacceptable because part of the town would not be covered, that cable “is not the best link to the internet,” and that because the town would have to first negotiate a cable licensing agreement with Charter there would be more legal expenses and additional building delays. The committee also said there would be no redundancy built into the system, so if a storm damaged the line, there would be no other route for a switch over during repairs.
Also according to the Broadband Committee, Charter would own the network, and the town would have no control over costs or guarantee of network neutrality.
A proposal from Crocker Communication was rejected because of concerns that it would not provide full access and would require residents to take out $3,000 one-time installation fee loans to subsidize a network that Crocker would own.
“The Town of New Salem prefers to build a municipally owned ‘fiber to the premises’ broadband network and we support the WiredWest Regional Broadband Solution to manage and operate the network on a regional basis, in conjunction with other towns that subscribe to services offered by WiredWest,” the Selectboard said, in a letter to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), which is to oversee the last-mile broadband build-out and to allocate the $40 million in grant funds to bring access to unserved towns.
Since MBI has announced that towns wishing to move forward on their own have access to their full “professional services” allocation, New Salem officials have asked for their original grant share of $750,000 to move the broadband project forward.
The Charter Communications proposal was to build out cable-access broadband to the towns of Shutesbury, New Salem, Egremont, Monterey, Hancock and Princeton, using grant money provided through the state Internet Technology grant and money invested by Charter Communications. Charter was to own, manage and run the network.