BOSTON – This morning, under the leadership of State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield), the Massachusetts Senate engrossed S. 1978, An Act authorizing the town of Mount Washington to establish, own, and operate broadband infrastructure and services and to issue bonds or notes therefor.
Mount Washington plans to build a town-owned, modern, fiber-to-the-home network to provide high speed internet access to its residents.
This home rule petition, filed on behalf of Mount Washington by Downing and State Representative Smitty Pignatelli (D- Lenox) was approved by a majority of voters during a Special Town Meeting on July 13, 2015. It was referred to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy (TUE) for review and consideration and received a favorable report from the Committee on September 21st. Downing serves as the Senate chair of the Committee.
S. 1978 authorizes the Town of Mount Washington to establish, own and operate a broadband infrastructure project without establishing a municipal light plant. Further, the legislation grants the Town permission to borrow funding to support the project for periods of up to 20 years.
While state law calls for a town to have or establish a municipal light plan in order to borrow funds to support construction of such infrastructure, Mount Washington’s officials believe forming a municipal light plant would be unnecessary and onerous, given the size of their community.
A small town in the southwestern corner of Massachusetts, Mount Washington has less than 140 residents.
In testimony to the TUE Committee, the Mount Washington Select Board explains that the Town currently struggles to fill existing municipal boards and committees, and suggests that a municipal light plant would create an additional burden for Mount Washington’s local officials, most of whom are volunteers. Further, the borrowing plan will allow the community to finance its broadband infrastructure project in the same manner as any other town asset, such as roads and buildings.
The Board cites strong support within the community to allocate the necessary resources to move forward with the project. The Board has developed a sound business plan, worked with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute and hired counsel to assist with financial matters. To date, approximately half of Mount Washington residents have signed up for installation of high speed internet.
The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives.