Published: 2/17/2020 9:23:28 PM
A former citizen’s committee has been officially appointed as a town committee by the Select Board, and is moving forward on the information gathering stage to increase broadband connectivity in town.
Mason’s Broadband Committee has been operating as an informal group for several years now, sometimes reporting to, but not officially sanctioned by, the town, according to Select Board Charlie Moser. Now, however, the committee has started the process of surveying the town to gather information about connection speeds, the first step in partnering with an internet provider to provide broadband to Mason.
In 2018, the state passed SB 170, a bill which allows towns to pass bonds to improve their internet infrastructure for areas of town that are underserved – in this case, defined as having speeds less than 25 megabits per second for downloads and three megabits per second for uploads – in a public-private partnership with Internet providers.
Once that process began, Selectman Charlie Moser said, it became more appropriate for the committee to be officially recognized by the town, and the Select Board officially appointed the committee members in January.
The town has looked into ways to provide broadband to townspeople in the past, including bonding, Moser said, but there wasn’t enough support to follow through. But recent partnerships between internet service providers and towns under a new law have renewed interest.
Last year, the town of Chesterfield passed a bond to provide fiber to the home of its residents. The bond to pay for the project isn’t paid back through taxes, but by a capped rate fee paid by those who sign onto the service. Rindge and Dublin are both proposing a similar structure on their warrants this year.
In both cases, if voters approve in March, Rindge and Dublin’s bonds would be paid back through a user fee of no more than $9.50 per month. If not enough customers sign on to cover the bond payment, Consolidated Communications, which is the company both towns would contract with, would cover the remaining payment.
A similar proposal for Mason would likely have the backing of the Select Board, where other options haven’t, Moser said.
“There is a lot of interest in town in having expanded broadband,” Moser said. “In the past, the Board of Selectmen has been reluctant to propose a bond, but in this case, where the bond is paid by the ratepayers, that’s more attractive.”
It is too soon to say what a partnership will look like for Mason, as it will be based on a proposal from an individual internet provider, who may offer different terms than the contract selected in Rindge and Dublin.
Moser said it’s too early in the process to know whether Mason would pursue a bond next March, but said it’s at least a possibility.
By statute, the first step towards that bonding process is determining current internet speeds available in town, and whether they fall below the threshold of 25 megabits per second for downloads and three megabits per second for uploads. This is the stage the Mason Broadband Committee is currently in.
The committee is calling for Mason residents willing to participate in a speed mapping project. Those interested can email [email protected] or visit the Fiber2Mason Facebook page.
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