Considerable progress is being made toward financing last-mile broadband in western Massachusetts. After a long period of little activity in the state legislature, the IT Bond Bill is on the verge of passage, with $50 million allocated to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI). WiredWest has been working on a mechanism for the borrowing authority of its member towns to support a bond issued by WiredWest for an additional $50 million needed for the project. In support of that objective, MBI retained the services of Gregory Sandomirsky, a leading municipal finance attorney with the Boston firm of Mintz Levin. He held meetings and conference calls with several members of WiredWest’s Executive Committee and its Executive Director. As a result, a step-by-step implementation plan for such an issuance has been drafted which WiredWest will be reviewing with its Board of Directors and town officials.
WiredWest continues to explore possible project funding through the Connect America Fund. In March it previously submitted an “Expression of Interest” to the Federal Communications Commission for what are called “experiments” in rural broadband deployment. Further details about the program and procedures to submit proposals are expected to be announced by the FCC in July. A key issue underlying the financing of a regional broadband network is the financial viability of such a project.
WiredWest has developed and continues to refine a detailed pro forma model. Consultants to MBI have also developed models, and MBI is working closely with WiredWest to develop a consensus model that ideally will serve as the basis for development of a regional network.
The Board of Directors of WiredWest had previously voted to assess a $1,000 fee for FY2015 (beginning July 1) from each member town for legal and other expenses primarily related to the financing. Member towns were asked to place an article for that amount on their Annual Town Meeting warrants, or to otherwise allocate the funds. Of WiredWest’s 42 member towns, all agreed to the fee except Leverett, which is building its own broadband network, and Alford, which is considering doing so. As a result these towns will withdraw from WiredWest, as per the Cooperative’s bylaws. There are also new towns working on joining.
WiredWest has drafted a letter which it is asking each Select Board in its member towns to send to MBI. The letter notes that people in unserved western Massachusetts towns are “frustrated by the continuing lack of adequate internet service.” It expresses continuing support for “WiredWest as our designated organization to implement and operate a regional last-mile fiber broadband network.” And it urges MBI “to work closely with WiredWest so that upon passage of the bond bill, construction of the network can begin as expeditiously as possible.”
WiredWest Town Liaison Reva Reck continues to be on health leave, but making progress. To help fulfill her duties, the Board elected Shutesbury Town Administrator Becky Torres to the Executive Committee.