Robbie Leppzer, Chair, Wendell Broadband Committee
Spring 2010: Town meeting vote or select board action in 47 towns established intent to cooperate with other towns on the creation of Wired West to provide "last mile" broadband network to homes and businesses. This network will be funded by grants, bonds, and subscriber fees, and will not be dependent on tax revenue from the towns. Wendell passed this warrant article with an overwhelming majority vote.
July 2010: Massachusetts Broadband Institute awarded $45.4 Million (total $71.6 Million with state funds) to build "middle mile" broadband network now called MassBroadband 123, connecting to anchor institutions in 123 unserved and underserved towns with 1100 miles of fiber-optic cable.
September 2010: Delegates from 32 western Massachusetts towns met to review and select a governance model. Brian Domina, staff lawyer at the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Andrew Cohill of Design Nine, and municipal broadband attorney David Shaw worked with Tim Newman, chair of the governance committee to analyze the organizational options. Brian, Andrew and David are consulting with WiredWest on numerous aspects of its creation, network design, funding, etc.
The delegates nearly unanimously supported the Steering Committee's recommended governance model, a municipal co-operative of member towns. A municipal cooperative is authorized under Massachusetts General Law (MGL), Chapter 164 which was originally written over a hundred years ago to allow towns or a cooperative of towns to build or acquire a power generating plant, the technology of the day in high demand by citizens and in short supply by private industry. The legislation has been amended since to include other technologies such as distributing over-the-air TV and "telecommunications services".
Each town that wants to be part of the Wired West municipal cooperative must first create a 'municipal lighting plant' through two votes taken 'by ballot with use of the voter list' and pass by 2/3 majority 2 to 13 months apart at annual or special town meetings. After each vote, it should be certified by the town clerk.
This lighting plant is considered a town department that is managed by the select board or a Municipal Light Board of 3-5 elected officials. Each town's lighting plant would be required to do very little other than the most basic administration of any town department (a report in the Annual Town Report, for example) and hence the costs of running the lighting plant would be minimal.
Once two or more towns have created municipal lighting plants, these early adopters would then form a Municipal Co-operative known as WiredWest Communications by filing Articles of Organization with the Secretary of the Commonwealth at which point they establish bylaws defining how other town lighting plants can join, how members can leave, how votes are taken, etc. The co-operative would be run by a Board of Directors consisting of representatives from its member towns, who would appoint an executive team that would perform the day-to-day functions necessary to manage a regional fiber-to-the-home network. The WiredWest co-operative would serve as the major entity that would design, build and run the network with bonding authority and the ability to take on debt.
There likely be a one-time membership fee of $1,000 and a possible annual fee of $500 - 1,000 (yet to be finalized).
For more information, visit the WiredWest website: http://wired-west.net
Recommendation for Wendell
Since the early adopter towns will likely be the first towns to be built out, it is my recommendation that Wendell consider adding the creation of a Municipal Lighting Plant to the warrant of our next Special Town Meeting, or schedule a Special Town Meeting for this purpose.
Here is the proposed text of the Town Meeting warrant article:
To see if the Town will vote to authorize the Board of Selectmen to take all necessary and appropriate action to establish and to maintain, in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 164 of the General Laws and in accordance with the rules, regulations and orders of the Department of Public Utilities and the Department of Telecommunications & Cable, a municipal lighting plant for all purposes allowable under the laws of the Commonwealth, including without limitation the operation of a telecommunications system and any related services, or to take any other action relative thereto.
Wired West, along with myself and other members of the Wendell Broadband Committee, will provide information sessions to help explain the proposal to town residents.
To be a founding member of the WiredWest Cooperative, both Wendell Town Meetings where the WiredWest article is voted on must take place before June 30, 2011.
In addition, I request that the Wendell Selectboard appoint me to be Wendell's town delegate to Wired West. (We'll also need to find an alternate delegate.)
I also request that the Wendell Selectboard appoint me to be Wendell's town delegate to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute's community board involved in their MassBroadband 123 middle-mile fiber-optic project.