We had a good meeting Monday with Mayor David Narkewicz and Antonio Pagan, the city’s Chief Information Officer, on our proposed community network for Northampton.
The mayor is definitely not opposed to the initiative and sees a lot of potential value in such a network. He is also aware that such a network would be a considerable expense and undertaking. He would like more information before deciding whether to take the initiative to the City Council. Toward that end, the coalition will continue our research of cities similar to Northampton. The mayor wants a better understanding of potential costs and liabilities. He would like to see what sort of feasibility studies were done for similar cities and what issues were uncovered.
One thing we learned: the city would not necessarily need to create a Municipal Light Plant to create a community network. This is a vehicle that could be used but is not required, in part because electricity is already provided by National Grid. He noted that similar cities like Westfield already had created a municipal light plant (Westfield Gas and Electric) and thus had owned to a lot of the light poles in Westfield and a provider in place that could stand up such a network. In Northampton, the light poles are owned by either National Grid or Verizon. He and Mr. Pagan noted that these utilities have tended to drag their feet on similar efforts in the past.
Among the mayor’s points:
- Most likely such an initiative would likely be bundled into an override. He says there are many other needs by the city that could be included in an override (such as additional money to fix Northampton roads) and it’s unclear if a community network would reach a high enough priority. The state has limits on the amount of an override that a city or town can pass in a given year.
- Such an endeavor could be financed by a municipal bond. He noted this approach was used to pay for other major city projects, such as the city’s parking garage. We noted that typically subscribers to these networks pay off these bonds through their monthly fees.
- He expressed some concern about whether providers of fiber connections could impose their own anti net-neutrality requirements. We thought this was unlikely given competition among these providers and that we’ve not heard of a case of commercial providers having anti net-neutrality requirements. Such a requirement by the city could be part of a RFP (request for proposal).
So we’ll be doing more research and providing the results of our research to the mayor and Mr. Pagan. The mayor is also willing to survey the community if a good survey can be developed. Such a survey may be placed on the city’s website. Previous surveys posted there have often returned good results. A survey will help gauge the degree of support within the city for such a network. Based on our research, a 30% take rate (subscription rate) is required for a community network to be financially viable. As part of a feasibility study, both high level costs and a likely take rate by Northampton residents and businesses would be needed.
We could certainly use your help in this research. Please come to our Thursday, June 7 meeting at 7 PM at Northampton Community TV (NCTV) behind Northampton High School to learn more and maybe help out!