Municipal Broadband Study
Ballot Question To Ratify Municipal Light Plant Votes
Mayor David J. Narkewicz and City Councilor William H.Dwight co-sponsored a measure to submit a ballot question at the annual election for Northampton's voters to ratify the city council votes authorizing the city to take all necessary and appropriate action to establish and maintain a municipal light plant for the operation of a telecommunications systems and any related services. The order was approved and the question will be included in November 2nd municipal election ballot. You can find the approved order here.
A potential positive vote would authorize but not require the city to establish a municipal light plant, which is a city-owned company that can provide utilities services including telecommunications systems. The municipal light plant, if approved, would be able to provide internet to businesses and households in the city. A YES vote does not obligate the city to establish a municipal light plant, but the city cannot form a municipal light plant without voter ratification of the two prior city council votes in favor. A NO vote would prohibit the city from forming a municipal light plant.
Municipal Broadband Market Survey
The City of Northampton has conducted a broadband market study to determine if a municipal network is the best path to a future with faster and better Internet for our community. Preliminary results of the residential and business surveys are very positive. The Final Report of the first phase of the study is expected to be released before the end of August 2021.
The city is presently engaged in a study to determine the answer to this question. As communities across Massachusetts and the United States build municipal networks, we’re taking the time to carefully look at this idea, to make sure we choose the best options for our city. We need your help to accurately answer this question. These surveys were designed to help the city understand the needs of Northampton residents and businesses. To this end, we’ve hired an independent consulting firm called Design Nine to conduct a comprehensive survey and study. The better we understand how every home, school, and business, uses the Internet what works well and what doesn’t, the better we will be able to make appropriate decisions about the future, and properly serve the community.
The results will help the city to determine where the need is greatest, and help guide us on how to ensure that all citizens and businesses have affordable and adequate access to broadband Internet services. The ultimate goal is to develop a comprehensive set of strategies to make sure every person and business who needs it has access to high-performance broadband Internet, and that our city is well-positioned for our future needs.
The second phase of the study will answer the question of whether it is feasible to pursue the efforts to build and operate a network that would provide the services identified by the market study. The main purpose of the second phase is to provide a cost-benefit analysis for based on potential business models.
In an increasingly technological world, the potential for citywide internet has become a point of conversation in many communities. For Northampton, the exploration of this opportunity began in the summer of 2016, when Mayor Narkewicz hired Percipio Industries, LLC, to examine the existing city fiber network for the potential of expanding into a municipal broadband network. The Final Report advised city leadership to explore the creation of a Municipal Light Plan and to conduct a Market and Feasibility Study before considering further options.
Market and Feasibility Study
In early 2020, an RFP requesting a municipal broadband study be conducted was posted. Through the exploration of this study, an ad-hoc committee was formed to review applicants that would be considered for both the market study and feasibility study should it be deemed worthy of moving forward. At the onset, the concept of a city-wide broadband held the potential of impacting many businesses as well as social aspects of the community. Some of these areas that could have potential impact would be the cost-control of internet access for local businesses, and enticing companies to settle within the Northampton area due to affordable and reliable broadband access. This impact would extend to increasing employment opportunities, city growth, and ideally allow small businesses to thrive without the increasing demands of private internet fees. By equipping the city with broadband, municipal and public safety would have access to smart-city technologies that are currently not available. Institutions of higher learning would have the ability to engage in these services as well, stretching to the on-campus housing and lecture halls. Residential community members would benefit from the competitive pricing for broadband services as they would see affordable pricing at the 1 Gig level whereas traditional private sectors do not affordably offer that high of broadband services. As the demand on technology increases, residents, institutions of higher learning and businesses will continue to need to meet that demand through increased bandwidth.
In the course of the feasibility study, the contractor needs to establish the need among business partners and other stakeholders as to the needs not being met presently with private broadband services. The contractor needs to examine the existing wireless and wired infrastructure set up by the city and private service providers through the examination of GIS mapping and partnering with the Chief Information Officer of technology for the city and other stakeholders. Through these conversations and research the full scope of the project can then be mapped out.
Three proposals were received, and two vendors were selected for review (Design Nine and Magellan Advisors). The ad-hoc committee interviewed and contacted references of these companies to assess the performance before selecting one company for referral to the Mayor for consideration. It became abundantly clear that Design Nine was favored to undertake this project over the other with a unanimous referral from all eight members of the advisory committee. As of the fall 2020, Design Nine had begun the steps to create the market study and it is expected this survey will be conducted with the local stakeholders and businesses in February 2021.
Ad-Hoc Advisory Committee
Municipal Light Plant
In June 4, 2020 and on May 6, 2021, upon recommendation of Mayor Narkewicz, the City Council authorized in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 164 of the General Laws and in accordance with the rules, regulations and orders of the Department of Public Utilities and the Department of Telecommunications & Cable, a municipal lighting plant for all purposes allowable under the laws of the Commonwealth, and more particularly for the establishment a municipal broadband system for the City of Northampton. A separate second approval vote would be required in the current fiscal year if the City decides to implement municipal broadband project in the future.