Petersham inks broadband agreement with state

  • Petersham Town Hall

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 1/30/2019 10:00:26 PM

PETERSHAM — The Selectmen met in special session Tuesday morning to approve an agreement with the Massachusetts Technology Park Corporation, which will help fund the town’s efforts to bring broadband internet service to Petersham businesses and households.

The pact calls for the state, through the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, to reimburse the town for part of the $880,000 cost of bringing broadband to the community.

Both the MTPC and MBI fall under the auspices of the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

“We have been working — the broadband committee — has been working a lot with our town counsel, David Doneski,” said Select Board Vice Chairman Henry Woolsey, “and they’ve been working with the attorney for the Mass Broadband Institute, Michael Baldino. We finally have hammered out this agreement to provide $880,000 to the town of Petersham upon the completion of the (broadband) project. We won’t see the money until the system is operational.”

At a special Town Meeting last fall, voters approved spending $800,000 for the project, with the understanding that, once the network is complete, the state would reimburse Petersham. At a special Town Meeting in December 2017 residents voted to use $300,000 from the stabilization fund and to approve $260,000 in short-term borrowing to move ahead with the initiative.

The 2017 votes were taken several weeks after the town’s Board of Selectmen and Broadband Municipal Light Plant Commission signed a contract with Matrix Design Group of East Hanover, New Jersey to design and construct the fiber-optic network and to operate it for 20 years.

The majority of potential subscribers in Petersham have already paid a $250 deposit to commit to tying into the system. According to the agreement with Matrix, standard internet service will cost subscribers $95 per month, while service that also includes caller identification, call waiting, and three-way calling will cost $115.

Woolsey explained Tuesday that residents who currently have computers in their homes or businesses must rely on either a DSL connection or satellite service. DSL, or digital subscriber line, provides high-bandwidth service over common copper telephone lines and tends to run more slowly than service provided via fiber-optic networks. DSL also tends to be more prone to service interruption.

Woolsey said bringing broadband service to Petersham has been a nearly 10-year effort. He explained that Tuesday’s special meeting of the board had been called simply to get the agreement signed and to speed work on the project. The board, he said, was under no pressure to meet a specific deadline.

“We were expecting this document months ago,” he said, “and we kept hoping it would come in time for one of our regular meetings. We actually had called a meeting for last Friday thinking we were going to have the document, but it arrived in the wee hours of Thursday night, which was not enough time for us to proceed with the meeting on Friday.”

“We’re just anxious,” said Woolsey, “because all of our make-ready work with the utilities is on hold until we can pay them. And the warrant article in the fall was conditional upon our having a signed agreement. The voters wanted to make sure that the Commonwealth was really going to reimburse us before we proceeded to borrow and implement the work. The Commonwealth had delayed this long enough and it was just important to get cranking on this.”


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