Broadband talks continue in Petersham
PETERSHAM — Members of the broadband committee met with the selectboard Tuesday night to discuss the current status of the proposed broadband network to be installed in town by Matrix Designs. The committee last met with the selectboard on the matter on Oct. 13 with Eric Nakajima of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute present.
“We are hoping that we are very close to you being close to send the proposal to Kopelman and Paige for legal vetting,” said broadband committee chair Chip Bull to the board.
The current estimates of costs to the town include $496,000 to prepare the existing utility poles for the fiber optic network. This cost will hopefully be covered in full by funds from MBI. The committee knows it will get money from MBI, but is still not sure how much as MBI will not confirm any amounts to be given to any towns eligible for broadband installation funds. The town would also have to pay for police details during the installation. Matrix Designs estimates $25,000 will be needed to cover this expense.
Bull said that the committee would like the selectboard to send a letter to MBI asking for them to officially confirm the amount the town will receive. Bull has heard varying amounts in the $460,000 to $560,000 range in the past year from MBI, but nothing has been put on paper yet. He said other towns are also concerned about not knowing what they will receive or how MBI will calculate what each town will be given. Previously Bull had heard that the amount given would be determined by how many road miles comprise the town.
Also, Bull asked administrative coordinator Steve Boudreau to contact State. Sen. Anne Gobi and ask her to write a similar letter to MBI. The board also recommended asking State Rep. Susannah Whipps Lee to write a letter as well. Bull feels letters from officials at the state level will give MBI an extra push. The board passed a motion for chair Nancy Allen to write a letter to MBI and have Boudreau ask Gobi and Whipps Lee to write letters as well.
If the town does not get enough funds from MBI to cover the make ready costs, the broadband committee is considering alternatives to make up the difference. Bull mentioned that the still to be formed and certified municipal light plant (MLP) board could add a small cost on to the monthly bills once the network is up and running. The MLP board can be appointed or elected once the MLP is officially certified by the state’s Department of Public Utilities. Bull said the paperwork has been submitted and they are just waiting for the certification to be official.
A new version of the Matrix Designs’ proposal had been received earlier in the day for the board’s review. There was some question of whether they should forward the agreement to the town’s counsel right away or wait until their next meeting. The board decided to take the time to review the proposal and discuss it at their next meeting before sending it for legal vetting since the broadband committee is still not sure of how much money they will get from MBI. Once legal counsel and the selectboard have approved the proposal, it will be sent to MBI for their review before the town can receive any funds. Matrix Designs will begin work almost immediately once the proposal is approved by MBI.
Bull also said that Matrix Designs would be able to incorporate most of the Flat Rock Road area residents into the network unlike previously thought.