By Chris Maza
WILBRAHAM – An important vote that could open up options for the town’s future with regard to development of a broadband infrastructure will be discussed at the Annual Town Meeting on May 12.
Article 50 calls for residents to authorize the Board of Selectmen to establish a municipal light plant, which would allow the town to sell Internet access, power, or gas, Broadband Committee Chair William Caruana explained, adding that in creating such a status, the town could take advantage of more favorable rates.
The article requires a two-thirds majority vote and has been supported by the Finance Committee.
“All the town wants to do is be able to buy Internet at a wholesale rate and have the option to re-sell it,” he said. “If the town is going to build its own municipal lines anyway, it should have the ability to re-sell Internet access. Even if we don’t sell, we can at the very least buy at a wholesale rate and cut back on out operational costs.”
He said the town currently spends $25,000 a year in Internet costs, not including the schools.
The town is not currently looking to sell Internet access to business and residents, but if it chose to, it would offer an alternative to more expensive options such as services provided by Charter or Comcast – Comcast plans to buy out all of the subscriptions in the area – which are subpar, according to Caruana.
“It would be in direct competition with them,” he said. “Even though Comcast is buying Charter here, the infrastructure would be the same. I haven’t seen any plans to change the infrastructure, which is an antiquated one.”
He also noted that it would not cost the town any money to create a municipal light plant and would require no construction.
“People are confusing the creation of a municipal light plant with a broadband infrastructure build-out,” he said. “Right now the town can build out a broadband infrastructure; it has that ability, but it has chosen not to do that. It has chosen instead plan out how to do the build. I’ve been working on that, but we’re not proposing any of that at this Town Meeting.”
Caruana said he has been meeting with other communities that have taken a similar approach to broadband access and recently attended a forum in Leverett where the town is building a community-wide infrastructure, which is one of several models the town is looking at. He said any eventual build out would help lower the cost of living for residents.
“What my committee has been doing is looking at a fiscally responsible way to do that,” he said.
Caruana said he would avail himself to residents with questions regarding the municipal light plant article or the potential of a broadband infrastructure build out. He can be reached at 367-8683.