As reported in today’s Gazette, yesterday’s City Council meeting was dominated by discussion of the police department’s budget, resulting in a meeting over seven hours long. However, at 2:25 AM the City Council did unanimously approve the creation of a municipal light plant (MLP) for Northampton. An MLP would be a legal framework for creating a municipal network for the city’s residents and businesses. The vote was unanimous.
Councilor Bill Dwight spoke up to advocate for the network, saying this was the best time for the city to create a MLP and that this has been a goal of the city for over ten years. Other councilors mentioned hearing from constituents that favor a municipal network.
Just to recap though, this was just a procedural hurdle that was overcome. The City Council must vote on it again in a new fiscal year, which starts July 1, again by a 2/3 majority. Then a majority of city voters must approve it as well. It’s too early to say if it could or should be on the November ballot, since results of the feasibility study are not yet available.
Funding for the study was approved nearly a year ago. Bids were received in March but of course the COVID-19 pandemic placed a hold on that work for a while. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of equitable access to the Internet. The bids to study the issue are currently being evaluated by a city committee that includes both city officials and members of our coalition.
There are two parts to the study: the first to see if there would be enough subscribers so the network would be financially self-sustaining, and the second to estimate the cost to build the network. If both study results give a green light, the next step would be for the Mayor to put a plan before the City Council and the community to create the network. City Council would then vote a second time for the creation of the MLP and subsequently (after the MLP is also approved by voters) for approval of construction of the network.
Hopefully, in a few years we’ll all be enjoying fiber to the home with much greater upload and download bandwidth at considerable savings to what we pay to Comcast.
Our coalition thanks all those who took the time to contact their city councilor to support this important initiative.