Editorial: Homegrown Internet provider a good idea

Published: 4/28/2016 5:09:49 PM

Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the public has been at the mercy of cable television providers, with little recourse when it came to rates and service.

With the decision to go forward with a municipally owned broadband Internet system, Greenfield is reintroducing a component long missing in any cable discussion — anywhere — competition.

Known as GreenLight Internet, the network “is a major move to a more independent and equitable platform for life,” Mayor William Martin said last year when the town was launching its pilot project — providing WiFi along sections of High and Main streets as a step toward determining whether to wire the entire city. “It will allow us to offer the most advanced, cutting-edge technologies to our citizens and businesses in a proactive, highly cost-effective manner and will provide Internet, telephone and managed data services for many of our citizens and businesses who currently cannot access these essential technologies.”

There has been little restraint on big cable providers in determining prices. Despite the special offers, bundles and other possible discounts, Internet/telephone combinations can run around $50 per month or more. GreenLight, however, is planning to offer mobile Internet access for $9.95 per month and $29.99 per month if you bring the service directly to your home.

Daniel Kelley, president of Kelley Management Group Inc. in Wilbraham, the town’s consultant for the project, said customers with the town’s plan, depending upon what they need, could see their costs drop as much as 30, 40 or 50 percent.

And the plan is to offer customizable speeds from 25 megabits per second, which is seen as the basic plan, to gigabit speeds. This means faster upload and download speeds than Greenfield residents and businesses can get through existing providers.

It all sounds great doesn’t it? So what’s the catch? Well, if you believe the mayor and Kelley, there isn’t one, even over how this service will be paid for. The town is borrowing the $5 million that’s needed to build out the network. Running the town’s broadband network and service will be a nonprofit, citizen-owned utility allowed under state law to provide telecommunications, electricity and energy services, what’s known as a Municipal Light Plant.

Money to pay back the bond and other incurred costs will come from the customer fees, one that is expected to make the municipal service self-sustaining. Thus, Kelley is predicting the revenue stream for the first year to be $1.8 million — essentially translating to 5,000 subscribers willing to sign up for wiring the network directly to their house or business. Greenfield is still expected to have a net income of $60,000, even after bond payments and other costs are taken into account.

Although this won’t include cable television service, between the Internet and telephone, the promise of faster speeds, reliable service and lower costs, it should send a message to Comcast or Verizon that there’s a home-grown cost-effective alternative right here in Greenfield.

Greenfield’s got the GreenLight, now it’s time to go.


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