Shutesbury wants town-owned network

Recorder Staff
Published: 3/30/2017 10:31:36 PM

SHUTESBURY — By a 113-1 paper-ballot vote, special town meeting voters agreed to form a five-member MLP board that will usher in a townwide broadband fiber optic build-out. The MLP, or “municipal light plant” designation, gives authorization for a town to own a broadband network as a public utility.

According to Broadband Committee Co-chair Gayle Huntress, the Selectboard turned down cable build-outs proposed by both Charter Communications and, more recently, Comcast — preferring instead to build and own its own fiber optic network.

The proposals from the commercial cable companies would have been built without additional tax dollars from Shutesbury residents, but would have covered 96 percent of all households — leaving about 40 homes without broadband access, Huntress said.

In 2015, Shutesbury approved a $1.7 million bond bill, to be used along with state grants totaling $870,000 for broadband design, engineering and construction.

Recently, the state changed how the broadband grants would be allocated, allowing towns planning to build their own networks to fully access grants for design and engineering. “We are still waiting on our pole surveys from MBI (the Massachusetts Broadband Institute). As soon as we get that data from MBI, we will be moving into pole (lease) applications, which will pave the way for make-ready work,” Huntress said.

According to the town’s website, Shutesbury hopes to have broadband service by late 2018 or early 2019.

When asked if Shutesbury, like Leverett, will run its own fiber optic network, Huntress said, “We are researching to make sure regional operations, as planned by WiredWest, is in the best interest of the town. So far, regional operations would seem to bring cost-savings as well as management advantages.”

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