Charlemont says ‘no’ to Comcast

Special to the Recorder
Published: 12/7/2018 3:57:27 PM

CHARLEMONT — Special town meeting voters turned out in full force Thursday night and ultimately defeated a proposal from Comcast Cable Co. for cable internet.

The offer, for Comcast to bring cable broadband access to up to 96 percent of households, at a cost to the town of $462,123 plus interest, was defeated by a roughly 20-vote margin, according to Robert Handsaker, chairman of the town’s Broadband Committee. He said the town clerk would have the exact vote tally, but she couldn’t be reached Friday.

Handsaker said the voting was done by paper ballot, after a relatively brief discussion, with about 160 voters present. He said all available folding chairs in the Hawlemont Regional school gymnasium were filled, and that others attending had to stand.

The Comcast proposal would have saved the town about $1 million, but it would not be a town-owned broadband network. The defeated measure means that Charlemont will likely go forward with a $1.4 million municipal town network, as was approved by annual town meeting voters in 2015.

“Working with (Westfield Gas & Electric), the town has already completed the design for the municipal network,” Handsaker said Friday. “The design work included mapping of all utility poles, design of the fiber distribution network and preliminary designs and cost estimates for the individual connection to each home.”

Handsaker said the town has already been awarded a $960,000 last-mile grant from the state Executive Office of Housing and Urban Development, which was used to pay for the network design. “The fiber network project has been on-hold for the last several months, awaiting a town vote on the Comcast proposal,” he said.

Before the special town meeting, the Broadband Committee had voted 6-0, with one abstention, to reject the Comcast offer, while the Finance Committee voted 3-0, with one abstention, to accept Comcast’s offer. The Selectboard chose not to make any recommendation, letting voters decide. However, two of the three Selectboard members spoke on town meeting floor in favor of the Comcast plan, Handsaker said.

Based on this week’s special town meeting vote, the next step is to file make-ready applications with the utilities, said Handsaker. 


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