WiredWest is actively pursuing financing from federal and local sources, seeking to raise about $50 million to match the approximately $50 million for last‐mile broadband in the IT Bond Bill pending in the state legislature.
The Federal Communications Commission requested “Expressions of Interest” for what it calls, “experiments” in rural broadband deployment by “non‐traditional” entities. These will be funded from the Connect America Fund (CAF), success or to the Universal Service Fund, which subsidized telephone service in high‐cost rural areas with a small charge on the bills of all telephone users. On March 7th WiredWest filed a detailed letter with the FCC expressing its interest in the program and explaining its unique qualifications to participate. You can read it here. The FCC will review the filings it received, then set a budget for such experiments and the procedures to apply for funding. Proposals are anticipated to be due this summer and awards to be made in the fall. WiredWest Executive Director David Epstein and Board Chair Monica Webb attended an FCC seminar in Washington about the CAF program, which emphasized the importance of community involvement.
Local participation in the financing of the last mile is essential. Toward that end WiredWest is considering issuance of a bond, which as a Municipal Lighting Plant Cooperative it is legally empowered to do. The bond would be backed by WiredWest’s member towns that choose to participate. To explore how the state might support such an issuance, WiredWest’s Executive Director and some members of the Executive Committee consulted with State Representative Steve Kulik and Assistant State Treasurer Colin MacNaught, who expressed his interest in continuing the discussion.
To explain its progress and these financing options, WiredWest is holding a series of information meetings in member towns for Select Board and Finance Committee members from surrounding towns. The response at these meetings to WiredWest’s financing proposals thus far has been very favorable.
One issue that needs to be resolved for the towns to back a WiredWest bond is how to allocate liability among the towns. This has been the subject of considerable discussion at Executive Committee and Board meetings, and Finance Chair Drawe has prepared extensive materials to support that evaluation. While a methodology has not been agreed upon, everyone does agree that it must be fair, and that it must stand up to the stringent due diligence to which the bond issuance will be subject.
To support its assessment of a $1,000 annual fee for Fiscal Year 2015, unanimously approved by the WiredWest Board of Directors, the Executive Committee prepared a justification for the funds and provided it to Board members and alternates to make available to officials in their towns.
Executive Director Epstein has continued to participate in MBI’s “kitchen cabinet” of advisors on deploying the last mile, although its progress has been slowed by Judy Dumont’s departure from her post as MBI’s Director. Epstein met with Philip Holahan, Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel of Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, MBI’s parent organization, and who is now acting as interim Director of MBI. A follow‐up meeting has been scheduled with Holahan, Epstein, Board Chair Webb and several people from WiredWest and MTC/MBI, as well as municipal finance expert Gregory Sandomirsky of the Boston law firm Mintz Levin, who counsels MTC/MBI on such matters.
In response to articles in the Berkshire Eagle and Greenfield Recorder about MBI completing its middle mile project, Steve Nelson wrote Op‐Ed columns in those papers advocating for WiredWest’s role in the roll‐out of the last mile, which were well received. WiredWest is pursuing other opportunities to tell its story through the media.
WiredWest continued to make progress toward connecting its ISP customer George Propane in Goshen. To stay focused on its last‐mile mission, the Executive Committee agreed to oversee completion of the installation but then find an ISP to take over servicing the client, and not to pursue additional customers at this time.
WiredWest Vice‐Chair and Town Liaison Reva Reck has taken a medical leave of absence to deal with a serious health problem. To help meet her responsibilities, the Board elected Becky Torres, Town Administrator of Shutesbury and town delegate to WiredWest, to the Executive Committee. We all wish Reva well and look forward to her return.