| Ryan Feyre
WEST SPRINGFIELD – Data caps have become a controversial topic in the Pioneer Valley over the course of the past few weeks and city councilors in Holyoke, Springfield, and West Springfield teamed up to oppose Comcast’s initial decision to impose a new policy that would charge residents extra for greater internet use.
After much outcry from communities, not only in Massachusetts, but also in many other Northeastern states, Comcast decided to suspend these internet data charges until August.
West Springfield Councilor Sean Powers partnered with members of the West Springfield City Council, At-Large Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman, Holyoke mayoral candidate Rebecca Lisi, as well as 13 other colleagues from Springfield and Holyoke to introduce joint resolutions calling on state and federal legislators and the FCC to investigate, regulate, and end these data caps. They drafted this up prior to Comcast’s decision to suspend the charges until August.
“I think Springfield, Holyoke, and West Springfield coming together put it on their radar,” said Powers. “I’m hoping that with Agawam and Northampton taking this up, August is enough time for our legislators at the statehouse to take a vote to not allow data caps.”
Powers said that he is glad the data caps have been delayed, but still hopes that the legislators will take into account affordable access when it comes to the internet.
“We really need to make sure that these fees going into place aren’t going to be more harmful than what some of our neighbors are already experiencing with job loss during this pandemic,” said Powers.
According to Powers, there have been “resounding similarities” between many residents of West Springfield who say that only recently have they gotten notices about their data cap almost being reached. He said prior to late-December, no one that he talked to was receiving these notices.
“All of a sudden, Comcast gears up to do this, and everyone is getting notices,” said Powers. General discontent from Comcast, which is essentially the only internet/cable system West Springfield uses, has also been the story throughout the city, according to Powers.
As Comcast users continue to be more skeptical about these data caps, Powers said that a municipal fiber network could be a possible course of action for West Springfield.
“I’ve spoken with Mayor [William] Reichelt, he’s interested in putting in a fiber network in town,” said Powers.
Fiber networks provide residents and businesses with a broadband service, where high-speed internet is present in homes at lower monthly costs. Mayor Reichelt alluded to this idea in a Tweet about residents possibly paying $70 a month for municipal fibers, rather than using Comcast for internet or phone.
Westfield has been offering this type of residential internet and premier phone service for the past three years, according to Powers. After watching them use the service, Powers said that the city has learned a lot.
For now though, the first step in this process is passing the resolution to ban internet data caps, and then revisit the fiber idea down the road.
“We’re hoping to pass this resolution, and then in the coming months, we could see what the fallout would be from the municipalities in the Pioneer Valley coming together,” said Powers. “August is great, but we would really like to see something more from elected officials at the state house.”