A letter to the Amherst Town Council regarding Municipal Broadband

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Amherst Media recently submitted a letter to the Amherst Town Council regarding a feasibility study around Municipal Broadband for the Town of Amherst. The letter follows—

 

 

Madam President and Town Council Members,

 

My name is Jim Lescault, I am the executive Director of Amherst Media, located at 246 College Street Amherst.

 

I would like to pick up on a short conversation from a recent Council meeting regarding Broadband.  The question was asked- is Broadband a social justice issue? The answer is yes.

 

The current COVID-19 pandemic has shown many of the injustices that have been left unaddressed by this country for far too long.  The issue of access to broadband is a social justice issue rooted in economic inequality.

 

When the Amherst Schools recently had to ask for financial assistance to get broadband and computers to over 100 Amherst families, so they could learn online, we should be asking why have these children been denied the opportunity to conduct research and learn via computers before COVID-19?  There exists a digital divide in this community and one that Municipal Owned Broadband can address.

 

The adverse economics of 32% unemployment in Amherst once the COVID-19 state-wide shutdown took effect raises the question how many people who could afford the internet broadband before will have to cancel their internet connectivity?

 

We have seen the rapid expansion of online health portals.   Telehealth has exploded. To apply for unemployment it is almost impossible without an internet connected computer.  It has become imperative for all to have access to the internet, and given our current status, access to the internet in our homes!

 

Amherst Media has been an active proponent for what is commonly referred to as Municipal Broadband.  Most recently in 2019, we started an online petition asking the Town Council to undertake a feasibility study on whether the Town of Amherst would benefit from Municipal ownership.

 

We asked people if they paid too much for Internet?  If they worried their personal data might be sold to companies?  Whether people favored Net Neutrality- and whether they would like to see revenues from broadband sales come to the Town of Amherst instead of a large corporation?

 

We obtained over 100 signatures but the timing was not conducive for the then newly formed governmental body, Town Council, which needed time to attend to creating structures, policies and procedures.

 

But that wasn’t the first time Amherst Media had brought the issue of Municipal Broadband to the attention of the Town.  In 2013, we had invited Interisle Consulting Group to meet with the Town Manger and IT Director.  They presented a detailed proposal to the Town to perform a feasibility assessment for a town-wide fiber optic network.  This proposal was offered at $25,600.

 

The Town Manager rejected the proposal by saying it would make Comcast upset.

 

Here we are in 2020 being told by the Town Manager that Municipal Broadband would cost too much, with no actual feasibility noted or cost associated with such an undertaking.  And that we would be in competition with Comcast.

 

If we are to truly look at social/economic justice issues in these times, then I would put the issue of affordable, community controlled, high-speed internet high on the list of things to do.

 

I recommend the Council to assign this issue to an appropriate committee or to hold a special Council Public Hearing, if that is the correct forum, so we can hear from experts in this field. Many of our neighboring municipalities are moving in this direction or have already made that jump.

 

Amherst Media offers our assistance in making that panel a reality.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

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