MBI to hold forum Monday on WiredWest broadband plan

Last modified: 12/15/2015 10:06:42 AM
GREENFIELD — After asking town officials not to sign on to WiredWest’s current regional plan for “last-mile” high-speed broadband in rural towns, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute has invited town officials to a meeting Monday to hear more information about its WiredWest review.

That meeting will be held in the Franklin Regional Council of Governments offices in the John W. Olver Transit Center on Olive Street from 5 to 7 p.m.

Last week MBI — the state agency responsible for the MassBroadband 123 “Middle Mile” network — sent WiredWest member towns a letter saying WiredWest’s draft operating agreement contradicts a last-mile policy the agency adopted in July: that towns own the fiber-optic broadband that is paid for by towns through taxes, user fees or with state money.

WiredWest has been working with up to 44 member towns over the past four years to bring high-speed broadband into sparsely populated “unserved” rural towns. Its current plan is to develop a multi-town collaboratively owned fiber-optic network. Under this plan, each town would own a share of the regional network, in proportion to how much money each town invests. But if the town withdraws from WiredWest, it can’t take ownership of its fiber-optic network with it, MBI asserts.

In contrast, Steve Nelson of WiredWest’s legal governance, has argued that the collaborative ownership of the network by member towns doesn’t violate the MBI ownership requirement.

Under the WiredWest proposal, one third of the multi million-dollar broadband infrastructure is to come from a $40 million state bond bill administered through MBI, while member towns are to pay the remaining costs.

MBI Director Erik Nakajima said the agency will not authorize state money “for a project with core elements as proposed in this draft operating agreement and business plan,” and recommended towns not sign WiredWest’s contract, that commits the towns to remaining with the collaborative for at least 10 years.

WiredWest fired back, saying, “It is not up to MBI, a bureaucracy in eastern Massachusetts, to decide what is in the best interests of the towns and their residents in western Massachusetts.”

“We need the state to stop throwing up unnecessary roadblocks,” the statement continued.

WiredWest called an emergency meeting for delegates of its member towns on Saturday morning for a three-hour discussion on how to respond to MBI’s criticisms. About 75 town officials attended the meeting. Called into question was a review of WiredWest’s business plan by Wipro, a consultant team hired by MBI to evaluate elements of WiredWest’s business plan.

“We’ll be talking more with our own town officials,” Nelson said after the meeting. “We’re going to be reaching out to Legislators, to set up our own meeting with MBI. That statement from MBI has brought this project to a screeching halt,” he added.

Nelson said WiredWest planned to start the pole surveys required for the build-out in January. “All we want to come out of this is let’s get back on track.”

MBI said it would be providing more information about its review in an “in-depth presentation and discussion of our analysis in early and mid-December.”

Among communities seeking broadband access, several are holding board meetings planned this week to discuss the issues raised by both MBI and WiredWest.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbroncaccio@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277




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