Northampton moving ahead on municipal broadband

  • Northampton City Hall FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/12/2021 12:43:39 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A city survey and City Council vote are moving the possibility of municipal broadband forward.

About a quarter of households in Northampton completed a survey about municipal broadband, with nearly all of them saying they want the government to offer internet service.

“98% of respondents — let me say that again — 98% of respondents believe the city government should facilitate better and more affordable internet service,” Mayor David Narkewicz told the councilors at a meeting last week. The figures are preliminary results, he said, as some surveys received in the mail are still being tabulated.

At the same meeting, the council voted to authorize the establishment of a municipal light plant, a public utility. Creation of a light plant is required in order for the city to build the infrastructure that would be needed for poles and a fiber-optic cable network.

In Northampton, it would be only for internet. “We’d be doing it solely for the purposes of broadband,” Narkewicz said in an interview.

In Easthampton, the creation of a municipal light plant was approved by voters in a 2019 ballot question after the City Council approved it.

Northampton City Council at-large member Bill Dwight said that establishing a municipal light plant, “while it sounds rather amorphous — I’m sure you have this image of this glowing building somewhere that generates light — in fact, it is the structural requirement by the state in order for us to go forward with any plans relevant to anything that looks like a municipal broadband facility.”

Under state law, establishing a plant requires two approval votes by City Council in two separate fiscal years, and the council approved establishing a plant in June 2020, according to the order. To make it final, voters must also approve it.

“Voters have to affirm the two-thirds vote of the council. That will be the next step down the road,” Narkewicz said. “The timing is good because we have a municipal election in November. That would be an ideal time to do it.”

Approval doesn’t obligate the city to establish a plant, but gives it the authority to do so, Narkewicz said.

Narkewicz presented the preliminary broadband survey data to the council. Of the 2,800 households that filled out the survey, 88% said they needed better internet service and 97% said they were interested in fiber-delivered internet service, he said.

Of the 123 businesses that took the survey, 86% said they needed better internet, Narkewicz said.

“We’ve heard a pretty clear message that we need to continue working on pursuing a municipal broadband option,” he said. “We will continue to do that.”

Now that the survey is closed, the city is planning to do a technical feasibility study with consulting group Design Nine.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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