Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, MA) - Leverett Broadband Committee Details Potential Savings 04/18/2012
By Ben Storrow
LEVERETT - The Leverett Broadband Committee believes that building a $3.6 million municipal network would save money for those residents who use it.
Savings on monthly phone and Internet bills would exceed the increase in taxes needed to build a high-speed network, according to the committee's projections released this week. A homeowner with the median property value of $278,000, would annually pay $300 more in taxes under the plan.
But residents who receive Internet and phone service via satellite would pay $888 less annually by switching from private to town telecommunication service, according to the committee. A Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) customer would save $426 annually on their service, and those who receive wireless Internet service via a signal transmitted by a telecommunication tower would save $768, according to the committee's figures.
"Anyone who is using the Internet would be saving," said Peter d'Errico, a member of the Leverett Select Board.
Those findings arose from a November survey of over 300 Leverett households conducted by the broadband committee in which people were asked to describe the type of telecommunications service they use and its cost, d'Errico said.
Residents will consider at the April 28 annual Town Meeting the ambitious plan to provide every Leverett household with high-speed Internet service by 2014. If Town Meeting passes the measure, it would then go to a Proposition 2½ override vote on May 12 for final approval.
D'Errico said the mood was positive at the third and final public information session on the project held Sunday. There were plenty of questions over how the network would work, but no one expressed opposition, he said.
"There is a general sense that it's about time to get this done," d'Errico said.
And while most of the five residents interviewed this week by the Gazette said they generally support the idea, there was skepticism about some of the details.
Donald Gibavic, chairman of the Finance Committee, said he would have preferred that the town pursue a "fiber-to-the-curb" network where the cable is run along the road and residents pay to connect it to their homes.
Instead, the broadband committee's plan is to have the town pay to bring the cable to every house, some of which are quite a distance from the road, Gibavic said. "If people want it that bad they could pay for it," he added.
Gibavic said the Finance Committee would likely meet Tuesday to discuss the plan proposed by the broadband committee. "If their numbers are correct, in one way it's a financial burden, and in another way it's a financial boon," he said.
Tom Masterson of North Leverett Road said he is open to the idea of the town providing broadband service, but not without some concerns.
"I am not sure if this is something the town should be doing," Masterson said, adding that he wondered if it would be a reliable provider of telecommunications service. "They're talking about spending $3.6 million and that's a lot of money."
He also worried about how the town would afford any repairs to the system after a major storm.
Yet Masterson said he would likely support the plan because he was tired of slow satellite Internet service and spotty phone coverage.
"I am sort of on the fence," he said. "I haven't heard anything other than the cost that would make me overly concerned."
Under the plan, Leverett would hire a company to build the network and another to maintain it. User fees would cover the maintenance costs.
Glen Ayers, a North Leverett Road resident who manages the computer systems at the Leverett Village Co-op, said the proposal is "critical to survive" for small and home-based businesses in town. He said the co-op had wanted to try online ordering and delivery systems, but neither could be done because satellite Internet service is too slow.
"A lot of small businesses like the store rely on Web-based resources that we don't have access to," Ayers said. "A lot of little things add up to making us less competitive ... which makes it easier for people to go somewhere else."
Susan Chang of Montague Road, a food writer, said that her job would be impossible to do from Leverett if she was not one of the few residents with access to DSL service.
"Anyone who works from home needs that connection," she said in support of the town's plan.
Chris Condit of Shutesbury Road said high-speed Internet proposal could expand the town's tax base.
"With broadband, Web-based businesses can move into to town," Condit said, adding that would help expand the town's commercial tax base. "I just think it is vital to the future of the town."