Easthampton City Council takes step toward municipal broadband service

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Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2019 5:42:39 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The City Council has voted for the second time to give Easthampton the authority to establish a municipal light plant, or MLP, enabling the town to put the question of creating a town-owned utility to voters through a ballot question. Under state law, the City Council must approve creating an MLP in two separate fiscal years with a two-thirds majority before putting the question to voters.

The vote, which was taken at the council’s Wednesday meeting, was 7-0. City Council President Joseph McCoy and City Council Vice President Salem Derby were not present.

Municipal light plants are town departments created to furnish electric power and/or energy-related services such as high-speed internet to residents and businesses; more than 40 have been established by cities and towns in Massachusetts. 

At the meeting, City Councilor Thomas Peake, who initially introduced the legislation, noted that Greenfield and Westfield are currently rolling out their municipal internet, and that having a municipal light plant would allow Easthampton to follow suit if it so chooses. 

“For us to put fiber on the poles, we need to establish an MLP,” Peake said Friday.

Asked if the municipal light plant could expand into providing power, Peake said, “I don’t think anything is off the table.”

“These entities can do some cool stuff,” he said.

Peake has said, however, that Easthampton is only exploring internet services at the moment. 

Language for a ballot question, which could be voted on Nov. 5 in this year’s municipal elections, was sent to the council’s Rules and Government Relations Subcommittee, and the council may vote to put language on the ballot at its Sept. 18 meeting.

Should it pass, the city will have the authority to establish a municipal light plant, although it will not be obligated to do so.

Peake said the mayor would make the ultimate call on whether to establish a municipal light plant and that operational funding would have to be approved by the council. He also said that how it will be financed is a big question.

“It’ll take a while to figure out the right way to go forward,” he said.

Although he doesn’t think there’s an appetite for raising taxes in Easthampton to pay for municipal broadband, Peake said bonding for it was possible.

“We’re just allowing this conversation to really start in earnest,” he said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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