WiredWest continues to focus our strategy and efforts on four key areas:
1) Supporting the passage of the IT bond bill
2) Partnering with MBI on developing the last-mile network
3) Seeking the additional funds needed for its construction and operation
4) Working closely with our member towns to assure local participation in the project
IT Bond Bill: The IT bond bill was taken up the the House Ways and Means Committee on November 19th. At the initiative of Vice Chair Rep. Steve Kulik, $10 million was added to the $40 million originally provided in the bill for building a last-mile network in western Massachusets. Some of that additional funding may be used to incentivize Comcast to build out its infrastructure in six towns currently partially served by cable, so as to connect the remaining homes in those towns. The Committee reported the bill out favorably that day and it was sent directly to the full House, which redesignated it as H.3770 and passed it unanimously. It was then referred to the Senate Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. WiredWest is staying in touch with our Senators from the region on the progress of the bill, which should be taken up in January.
MBI Partnership: David Epstein, WiredWest’s Executive Director, attended a meeting on November 18th with Massachusetts Broadband Institute Director Judy Dumont and her “kitchen cabinet.” This is a group formed by MBI to assist it in formulating its strategy for the last mile, and includes several consultants with expertise in broadband, as well as executives of MBI and its parent organization, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. WiredWest has a seat at the table in these discussions through David, who participates in two weekly scheduled calls with the kitchen cabinet and is also in regular direct contact with Judy. He and WiredWest’s outside counsel Diedre Lawrence, of the Boston firm Rubin and Rudman, have been invited to a meeting at MBI, expected to be held later this month, to discuss how the legal structure and powers of the WiredWest Municipal Lighting Plant Coop and its member MLPs might be utilized to further the last-mile project.
Funding: The WiredWest Executive Committee continues to work on its application for funding from the Broadband Loan Program of the Rural Utilities Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. MBI has indicated that it does not intend to submit an application to RUS, so WiredWest will be the applicant on behalf of most or all of the 45 unserved towns in western Mass. The federal Farm Bill, which defines the policies of the RUS Broadband Loan Program, is presently under consideration in Conference Committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill, with a new reconciliation deadline of January 31st, 2014. The funding for the RUS Broadband Loan program is contained in the annual Agriculture Appropriations bill, which is sometimes passed within an Omnibus Appropriations bill. We are waiting to hear about progress on that front, and advocating for reasonable funding levels.
Town Participation: WiredWest convened a meeting on November 21st at the Buckland Town Hall with representatives of four towns partially served by cable (two others did not attend). In addition to WiredWest’s Executive Director and three members of its Executive Committee, attendees included the Select Board chair from Buckland, a Select Board member from Shelburne, the town administrator from Conway, the chair or a member of the Internet/cable/technology committees from those towns and Northfield, as well as several area residents and business owners. After presentations and discussion about the situation in their towns and their relationships with Comcast, the group asked WiredWest to form a “Cable Town Caucus” to represent the interests of those towns to the legislature, to develop a consistent message to be approved by Caucus members and the WiredWest Board of Directors, and for the uncabled and partially-cabled towns to speak with a one voice through WiredWest. It is expected that the Caucus will meet in January.
Additional recent activities:
- With unanimous approval of the Board, WiredWest welcomed a new member to the Executive Committee, Dan Jacques, a Montgomery Selectman and professional construction project manager
- Continued to refine the detailed WiredWest pro forma
- Signed a contract with our first ISP customer, George Propane of Goshen, for 50mbps service
- Heard presentations from two organizations about alternate financing options
- Continued to communicate with the media and our state legislative delegation