Green light for Petersham broadband network

Published: 12/11/2018 11:05:46 AM

By SARAH ROBERTSON

Staff Writer

PETERSHAM — Residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of a ballot measure giving the final green light for a town wide broadband network on Monday.

“People in this town are so sick of the lack of internet,” said Petersham Town Clerk Diana Cooley. “It’s a lot of money, but the theory is we’re going to get it back in a grant.”

With 231 votes in favor of the ballot measure and 18 opposed, Petersham residents easily agreed to front the $800,000 cost for the utility pole “make-ready” work in order to build a publicly owned, high-speed fiber optic broadband network. A total of 249 paper ballots were cast in the election, making for a 25 percent voter turnout.

An article asking residents whether the town should build a fiber optic network passed by the necessary two-thirds majority during a Nov. 19 Special Town Meeting, placing the debt exclusion question on the Dec. 10 ballot. In passing the article, voters granted the Select Board permission to apply for grants from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, a state grant program working to bring broadband access to central and western Massachusetts, to reimburse the project.

“This is part two,” Cooley said.  

The estimated $880,000 reimbursement will cover utility providers’ remaining “make ready” costs in Petersham — $231,759 for Verizon and $448,389 for National Grid, plus $129, 025 for licensing fees. The companies need to prepare utility poles in town, which they own, to carry the fiber optic cables and secure the aerial rights to use the poles in some areas. The town has partnered with the Matrix Design Group to draft plans and prepare for construction.

Petersham resident and professional photographer Troy Word moved to town from New York City, and has been vocal about the need for high-speed internet access for quality of life and economic development.

“It’s literally like a utility,” Word said. “No one is going to buy a house in Petersham if they don’t have access to broadband internet.”

Interviewing several other Petersham residents, Word made a short documentary about the importance of broadband access in order to convince others to vote in favor of the measure. Many wish they had the luxury of telecommuting, or could better run their local businesses with consistent internet access. When sending large files, Word says he travels with his modem to the Market Basket parking lot.

“I just don’t understand why it’s not a higher priority on a statewide basis,” Word said. “It’s a win-win across the board. If I had Charlie Baker’s ear for one minute I’d tell him, this is a no brainer.”

The fact the broadband system will be publicly owned has its merits, too, Word said.

“It may be an advantage in the future to have your own independent system to choose from and not be locked into the major plans and providers that are consolidating further,” Word said.

According to Petersham’s Broadband Municipal Light Plant Board, the center of town is expected to have internet access by early spring of and the rest of town by the summertime.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@atholdailynews.com.


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