City plans to use federal stimulus money to help construct a municipal network

During a virtual meeting on Zoom with Northampton Neighbors on Monday, Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra answered some of our coalition’s questions regarding a municipal network. Watch the video below. It only takes a few minutes.

Among the mayor’s points:

  • No funds are in the city’s budget related to municipal broadband because expenditures related to this will appear in a separate Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)
  • The city is waiting for Design Nine’s (the city’s contractor) report to estimate the costs involved in its construction and maintenance. These will be used to help form the city’s CIP.
  • She expects the first group of subscribers to the network could start using the network in 2 to 3 years
  • The city has applied for both state and federal funding to expand the city’s internal fiber optic network. They are also working to identify state and federal funds that could be used in the construction and operation of a municipal network for residences and businesses.

Although the mayor mentioned that a municipal network’s costs are not in the budget, there is some related information in the proposed FY 2023 city budget. In it, the mayor proposes using part of the money granted to the city in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) for creating municipal broadband. This detail can be found on page 25.

The ARP will provide the city with a total of $21.7M in funding. The mayor is proposing to use $10M of this money for broadband expenses and COVID-19 expenses not covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It’s unclear how much if any of the $10M will go toward municipal broadband.

The cost of a municipal network is likely to be more than $10M. However, any ARP funding would reduce or eliminate a lot of the borrowing that would otherwise be necessary to create the network, which should reduce rates for subscribers. We recommend a municipal network require all its expenses to be paid for by subscribers, so it would have no net impact on the city’s budget.

Exactly how a network would be built and organized is unclear. On page 42 of the same report, the mayor says the city’s IT Services Department will be tasked in the next fiscal year to complete the broadband study and prepare for next steps.

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