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Editorial: Cities wise to lay groundwork for public broadband

Published: 3/2/2019 12:27:50 AM

In today’s society, reliable, fast and affordable internet service is as critical as water and electricity when it comes to a community’s future.

That’s why we’re encouraged to see leaders in Northampton and Easthampton take first steps in recent weeks to explore what it would take to launch and operate a publicly controlled and locally maintained municipal broadband high-speed internet service.

Such services would compete against the likes of Comcast and Charter Communications — also known as Spectrum — large companies that are the only broadband internet game in those communities. Less competition means that customers have little leverage and companies few incentives to spend the millions it would take to offer a faster and cheaper internet experience.

Let’s hope officials — and the residents they serve — don’t get scared off by the short-term initial sticker shock to build out municipal broadband. Just like constructing new schools, libraries, police and fire stations and other municipal buildings, funding such a service is worth the long-term investment.

Broadband is a critical piece of infrastructure in attracting businesses, boosting economic development and allowing people to work from home and thrive in a connected society. Put simply, access to fast internet is just about a necessity.

The cost of the systems could be high — $10 million to $12 million are the early estimates in Easthampton, though the price tag for communities in other states is much higher — so it will be important to figure out what they should include and exactly what it will cost.

Municipal broadband is working well in nearby Westfield and Leverett, and it’s coming to South Hadley. That alone shows it’s feasible, as long as there is a solid business plan.

Northampton studied the idea three years ago, and more recently the mayor and top chief information officer visited Westfield. Now comes a two-part feasibility study approved by the City Council last week. The study will include a citywide survey to gauge interest, followed by a detailed nuts-and-bolts report of what it would take to create such a network.

We’re glad the idea is finally gaining steam thanks in large part to a push from residents who are part of the Northampton High-Speed Community Network Coalition. At a recent council meeting, the group handed the mayor hundreds of signatures from residents in support of municipal broadband and added that there is strong backing from the business community.

Tired of high prices for poor internet service, Easthampton last year formed a special telecommunications advisory committee to explore a city-owned service. That committee recommends studying whether fiber-optic internet is feasible. And they want the council to act fast on its recommendation and put the idea before voters in November.

Communities like Northampton and Easthampton can reshape the internet playing field for the betterment of residents. Let’s hope it happens.




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